Powerful Participatory Learning Centres!

‘Women cannot only hold POTS and PANS but they can equally handle PLOTS and PLANS’. I read this line some 15 years ago, when I was an eighth-grade school student. I found the statement so strong, that I repeat it again and again. It strongly states the transition of women from the four walls of a house to a boundary-less sky with no limits. Since then, I have strongly believed that there is no force more powerful than that of a woman determined to rise. And, when it’s a group of powerful women, it’s unstoppable. This fact has been well tapped by Oxfam in Nepal in its program implementation strategies, by promoting Participatory Learning Centres (PLCs) (also known as Women’s Empowerment Centres or WECs) for the socio-economic and political empowerment of community, especially women.

Participatory Learning Centres are one of the most effective means of organizing and empowering communities, especially women from vulnerable and marginalized communities. In PLCs any subject or perceived problems are analysed and solutions are implemented, through a participatory learning and doing approach.

Participatory learning is facilitated by trained facilitators who are given Training of Trainers (ToT) for running PLCs in their community. PLCs are based on the principals and practices of Regenerated Frereirian Literacy through Community Empowering Techniques (REFLECT) to facilitate the process of community empowerment. Each PLC consists of at least 25 to 30 women members, who meet regularly for 1 to 2 hours once or twice a week to discuss day-to-day social, business, economic and political issues. The agendas vary from sensitization on unpaid care work, gender mainstreaming, financial literacy, business counselling and, most importantly, sensitization on Gender Based Violence, women rights, services and entitlements, along with discussion on any contemporary issues.

Oxfam in Nepal extensive experience of implementing PLCs in majority of its projects. The role of PLCs has been found to be critical to increasing women’s access to local resources, to increasing their participation in decision-making process and to the process of establishing people’s rights, especially those of poor, women, Dalit and socially excluded people.

Ms. Tika Galami, is PLC facilitator of Jahada, Nawalparasi, supported by Oxfam Nepal’s Nawalparasi Rice Enterprise of Enterprise Development Programme. She said, “The training for facilitators was unlike other training. We learned about Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools along with techniques for advocacy. These tools are so practical and it’s easy to identify community problems and frame advocacy strategies accordingly”. She ran PLC classes twice a week, where 20 women participants of her village participated regularly. Within six months, many achievements were made under her leadership. For example, her centre was successful in bringing a woman who had gone to Kuwait for foreign employment and had been lost for 11 years back to her home safely. Ms. Galami says, “After discussing issues in our community, we found out that the women had been lost for many years. The only thing we wanted to do was to find her and bring her back safely. So, we coordinated with local organizations and authorities working for safer migration, put all our efforts into it and brought her back. This is one of the major achievements of our PLC centre, which we are very proud of.”

The group was also successful in identifying 12 children from most marginalized communities of Harijan and Musahar in Jahada, Nawalparasi, who were involved in child labour. A major challenge was to convince their families, to stop child labour and admit them to school. So, the PLC accepted  the challenge to free these children from work and send them to school.  

Kamala Nepali, 40, the resident of Sandhikharka Municipality-7 in Argakhanchi District, belongs to the Dalit community, one of the most marginalised communities of Nepal. She is a member of Dashainghar WEC supported by Livelihood Empowerment Project (LEP) implemented by Oxfam in Nepal. She was inspired by the discussions in the WEC about joint land ownership (JLO) and how it can empower women. As her husband is a seasonal migrant worker to India, she thought it would be particularly useful for her to own land jointly, as she could access credit and other facilities and services in absence of her husband.  When her husband was back in Nepal, she convinced him to go to District Land Revenue Office in Argakhanchi and obtained JLO certificate. The couple now happily own half an acre of land together and Kamala feels more empowered and secure.

The positive outcomes of implementing participatory learning have been overwhelming. It empowers women to become change agents in their communities. Some outstanding outcomes achieved through PLCs (or WECs) are successfully launching campaigns for joint land ownership, birth registration, attainment of citizenship cards, ending child labour and immunization for children. PLCs have also provided successful financial literacy classes, increased women’s participation in increasing production and produc..., improved women’s leadership skills, and increased their representation in local and national government. In addition to using their influencing and advocacy skills for addressing community issues like rape, dowry, child marriage etc, PLCs have also secured government budget for infrastructure development (irrigation, water supply etc.).

At the end of a project, PLCs provide an effective exit strategy for the sustainable development of a community, as each woman become a champion empowered to identify and discuss any issue and find solutions themselves. Even after the project completion, women gather weekly, monthly or when needed, to discuss new issues and possible solutions. With this enhanced capacity, PLC members can facilitate and replicate the same process in other communities. After all, strong women act courageously. One can try to confuse them, shame them, try to stop them, but they will keep going, more determined than before.

By Swikriti Sharma,  Project Coordinator, Oxfam's Enterprise Development Programme, Nepal

Photo: Women and Men, participating in PLC supported by Oxfam in Nepal’s ‘Makwanpur Livelihood Recovery Project’ in Markhu, Makwanpur

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