March of Women
Bonita Sharma is an active social worker, the Co-founder of SOCHAI and someone who has always been striving for better. She has tried, failed and succeeded in her journey and has been an inspiration for many.
Bonita’s Perspective on Herself
- If you had to introduce yourself in 5 sentences, how would you?
- My name is Bonita Sharma
- I am a Nutrition Activist
- I am the Co-founder and CEO of a young women led non-profit Social Changemakers and Innovators (SOCHAI).
- My team and I strive for good health and nutrition for people, especially women, children and girls.
- I get excited about little things like dogs, flowers, dancing and food.
- Not everyone can do what you’ve done. How did your journey start and how did you overcome the obstacles during the journey?
My journey started with a failure, a whole lot of privileges and realization. After my ‘Dream USA’ failed due to visa rejection, I decided to pursue a Public Health program here in Nepal. My education took me to different parts of the country which helped me immerse with the grassroot community. I was able to empathize better and reflect upon my privileges. I never had to struggle for the basic needs. But the reality of another girl of my age in Sindhupalchowk was completely different. Access to quality education, health services and nutrition is still a far cry for many in Nepal. Our system and society is unequal and unless those in privilege position start doing something to level the ground, it’s going to remain the same. It was this realization, that motivated me start SOCHAI with my friends – Neha, Aasutosh, Eva, Manjita.
As they say, “padhera bhanda parera janincha…”, our past and present experiences make it a bit easier to deal with the challenges we face. Also, when you have your team together, no matter how big the problem is, you have the confidence to solve it. Having a supportive environment at home, a strong network of friends, mentors and allies has also been crucial to address the obstacles in our path.
- What are the fields that you’ve been working actively in? What else do you plan on working in the future?
Currently we are working in 2 provinces – Sindhupalchowk, Kathmandu, Makwanpur (Bagmati) and Sarlahi (Madhesh). Youth capacity building programs, school health and nutrition bootcamps, skill training and entrepreneurship development, tele-nutrition, youth led counseling, research, policy and digital advocacy, emergency response are some of the key programs/services we have been working on. On the product side, our award-winning educational tool - Nutribeads and Redcycle bracelets, complements our programmatic activities. We also sell these products locally and internationally using the ‘buy 1 give one’ model for revenue generation.
All of the programs that we run are in collaboration with the local government which contributes to accelerate the progress in the Sustainable Development Goals. In the coming years, we hope to reach all 7 provinces of Nepal and in the next ten years we also aim to expand our impact in South Asia as more than half of the world’s children identified as malnourished live in this region.
- Can you share your awards and achievements till date ?
I feel fortunate to have received the accolades for the work that I do and although I might be the face here, all the awards and achievements are because of the team work.
In 2019, I was listed by the BBC in the 100 most influential women of the world. In 2020, I was awarded with the Goalkeeper Global Goals Progress Award 2020 given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I have been recognized by UNESCO as a Female Champion for educating women and girls in Nepal. I am also a member of the Provincial Nutrition and Food Security Steering Committee (NFSSC) of Bagmati Province since 2019.
In 2016, we won the UNICEF Asia Pacific Youth Innovation Challenge for the idea of ‘Nutribeads’ bracelet – a low tech wearable tool for educating mothers about nutrition. SOCHAI was also chosen as the winner of One Young World - Lead 2030 Challenge in 2019. SOCHAI also got a shoutout from the Hollywood actress Jessica Alba, which was pretty cool.
- What is the best part about your work?
It’s when I get to travel and interact with the most passionate young people working in the different corners of our country. It gives me so much hope that the upcoming generation has so many ideas and visions to make this world a better place. It also warms my heart when we go for a follow up visit and a mother is wearing our Nutribeads bracelet and correctly feeding her baby, or an adolescent girl is campaigning against just food and taboos of menstruation after participating in our training program. Witnessing small small ripple effects of our hard work is the most rewarding feeling.
Bonita’s Perspective on Women’s Day
- When you hear Women’s Day, what are the thoughts that come to your mind. Is celebrating a woman for one day, giving public holidays the only way to celebrate the day ? What is your take on celebrating a woman ?
Marking a day to globally raise awareness on existing gender inequality, highlighting stories of women, their challenges and success is important. However, it is absolutely necessary to look beyond the 8th of March and continue the momentum throughout the year.
Honoring women for one day and treating them like a second-class citizen the rest of the year is simply a tokenistic approach. We can definitely do better than this and we can start by challenging the patriarchy in our own communities. Men of the house must share the burden of unpaid care that is mostly labeled as a ‘woman’s job’. Instead of giving just gifts, organizations should promote women in leadership positions and ensure the gender pay gap is not an issue. Using the social media skills, youth can speak up on the issue of violence against women on TikTok. Policy-makers and stakeholders should apply gendered lens and intersectional approach when formulating policies. These are some of the ways one can create lasting impact in the lives of women and truly celebrate Women’s day.
- In your opinion, what is the biggest barrier for women in the modern world?
The patriarchal system. It is the major barrier that prevents women’s social, political, economic participation. Gender based violence, regressive gender norms, pay gap, limited access to resources and opportunities, unpaid and unequal care burden, economic dependency are all the repercussions of this system. Some people think that these challenges do not exist in the modern world. But if you look at the global and national data of violence, percentage of women in leadership roles, gender pay gap, female ownership of fixed assets etc. it gives a reality check.
- What would be the most effective way to cut down negative feminism?
I don’t believe there is anything such as negative feminism. There is a common misperception that feminism is about hating men so many people do not want to be associated with this ‘F word’. In reality, feminism is a movement that strives for equal rights and access to opportunities irrespective of one’s gender. Feminism in fact benefits all gender, including men. What we should be cutting down is the assumption that feminism is negative, as it discredits the movement and the valid issues that are being raised by the feminists.
- We talk about equality a lot but it seems almost impossible due to the deep rooted differences in the mindset of people. Would the idea in the future or do you think equity would be a better option?
Equitable approach is the way to reduce the social, economic and gender inequality and pave the path for equality. Wearing an intersectional lens to understand existing inequalities and investing on those who are often left behind such as women, LGBTIQA+, people living with disability, indigenous groups, youth etc. may be the starting footstep to level our unequal society. Equality may seem like a far-fetched dream but it may not be impossible with strong leadership, political commitment and collective action.
- What do you think is the role of men in achieving a better society and upgrading the mindset?
There isn’t any standard formula to upgrade the mindset. However, fundamental things men can do for the betterment of our society are
1. Respecting choices
2. Recognize your privileges
3. Making consistent effort to unlearn and relearn
The Fun Part
- What is one thing that no one believes about you?
Some people assume that I am a high achiever who has figured out everything in life. I have not. Failing and learning is what gets me moving.
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To be invisible
- What is the most asked question to you?
“When are you getting married?”
- Your most embarrassing moment ?
This one time a journalist had come to my office for an interview. I welcomed her and sat down gracefully on my chair. Right at that moment my chair broke and I fell down on the floor. It was very funny and embarrassing.
- Something you would avoid eating for the rest of your life?
- If you could eat one food everyday, what would it be ?
Daal bhat tarkari achar for sure!
- The moment you would always want to go back to ?
When we won the UNICEF Innovation Challenge in 2016 for our idea of Nuribeads bracelet. It was also the first time I got over my stage fright and represented team SOCHAI on the global platform.