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Masked opportunities

At a time when businesses are seeing dark days due to the COVID pandemic, few organizations in Nepal have been helping women make steady incomes — by producing masks.

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“Sewing is not just my passion, it is also my livelihood,” says Bina Pariyar of Tarkeshore, Balaju, Kathmandu. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, Bina’s source of income dried up. Desperate to make a living, she thought about taking up other jobs. But sewing was the only thing that Bina knew, and she tried to make the best of the opportunity that came her way. “Masks were being used widely, so my friends and I started to make masks on our own,” she says. “After a few tries, we approached Hatemalo Woman’s group where we learned mask making. I earned Rs. 20,000 during the lockdown and am now bringing in around Rs. 1000 per day.”

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Bina, now 42, first found her passion when she was 18. “I remember being elated when I made a blouse for myself,” she recalls. “Today, I’m proud to be sewing masks and doing my bit to contain the coronavirus.” Bina’s family has never been supportive of her going out to work, but the work-from-home modality has been to her advantage. “I’ve been able to take care of my family while earning decently during this critical time,” she says. Bina now has plans to buy a good sewing machine and produce masks in a large scale.

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Radha Sapkota, the founder of Hatemalo, says that the women her group supports are glad about being able to make an income at a time when businesses have been incurring huge losses due to the ongoing pandemic.

Cotton Mill is another organization that has been producing masks. They use local cotton and linen, while promoting sustainable business and providing employment opportunities to vulnerable women. Women empowerment, however, was not the aim when the business first started. “It just happened that way because being women, we found it was easier to work with other women,” says Prasanna Basnet, co-founder of Cotton Mill.

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The employment opportunities that Cotton Mill has provided during the pandemic has been helping more than 20 women earn a decent income. Taking all safety measures, they have been producing masks that Cotton Mill aims to export to the global market. “Apart from feeling independent, supporting my family has made me more confident,” says Kamala KC, one of the workers at Cotton Mill.

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Similarly, the COVID situation has made SABAH (SAARC Business Association of Home-Based Workers) Nepal repurpose its business modality — they have started making masks, with more than 500 women being involved in the process. Deepa Shakya, who works for SABAH Nepal, reveals that she was extremely worried when the lockdown was imposed; she did not expect to receive any work. “But the pandemic has actually proven to be a great opportunity for us since we have a lot more work,” she says.

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UNDP has been supporting the Nepal government in its effort to contain the coronavirus. As part of the COVID response, UNDP is also supporting local entrepreneurs foster their businesses. Recently, UNDP procured more than 40,000 masks from SABAH Nepal; the masks were then handed over to the Nepal Army, who later distributed them to returnee migrants. UNDP Resident Representative, Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labe, says, “We are pleased to support women entrepreneurs to repurpose their businesses and be relevant and respond swiftly to the evolving health and economic stress simultaneously. Furthermore, the use of locally-manufactured masks has not only developed local entrepreneurship but also contributed to the protection of the environment as we discourage single use masks.”

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Story by Richa Ranjitkar, Photo credit: Laxmi Pd Ngakhusi

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