Radha Paudel of Nepal
By Peace Writer Sigrid Tornquist
Radha Paudel, the founder and president of Action Works Nepal (AWON), has been described as “one of those people who just makes things happen.” She founded AWON on the principle of action over lip service, and assists primarily rural, poor and marginalized women to live dignified lives in a country still recovering from a 10-year civil war.
Paudel began her career as a nurse as the civil war between the Maoist insurgency and the government army broke out. Working in Karnali Zone, an isolated, mountainous and conflict-ridden area in the Mid-Western Region of Nepal, she witnessed women and girls arrive day after day at the hospital suffering from gender-based violence or preventable diseases. But getting them help was risky. She was targeted by both the Maoists and the government, as each side suspected her of assisting the other. At times, Paudel had to move from house to house to escape being abducted or killed.
The armed groups eventually started to trust her as she was courageous and defiant in her dedication to helping women, but also because she was one of the only medically trained people in the area. She began treating injured soldiers and rebels in their field hospitals, and eventually negotiating with the two sides to access communities in need became easier. Paudel later raised enough money to establish a blood bank and a hospital for maternal surgery — the first in the region.
Paudel’s experiences during the 10 years of violence prompted her commitment to change the culture and overcome the barriers to resources that kept rural women poor and marginalized. With AWON, she has started several campaigns to promote human rights and give women a voice in local and national affairs. The Miteri Gau, or Let’s Live Together Campaign, engages all levels of rural communities in a dialogue on the rights of women and the various roles of family and community members in a peaceful society. The SHARP Campaign — Sexual Harassment Response and Prevention — addresses harassment on public transportation and in educational institutions.
After the civil war ended and the constituent assembly was created to draft a new constitution, Paudel began working to incorporate a gender perspective in the process and brought the voices of rural and conflict-affected communities to the capital. She is also working closely with political leaders, security personnel and media to build accountability on women’s rights, protection and participation according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Her simple motto to the complex dynamics of gendered democracy and post-conflict reconstruction is “no women, no peace.”
Paudel was a Woman PeaceMaker in 2012.