Challenges and Opportunities of Non Residential Nepali Women in USA
The United States of America is a country which is a great haven for immigrants from all over the world. After Christopher Columbus’ expedition in 1492 the land of Native Americans in his words American Indian, the immigration history is about of 5 centuries now. Museum of Immigrants in Ellis Island New York illustrates that almost all of the immigrants started their journeys with a pair of baskets, handful of clothing and personal belongings. Some of them travelled with families, some alone. History of immigrants in USA started from South America, Europe, Middle East, South Africa, and Australia to Asia. Recent trend of immigration from Nepal started since 1970s, although there were few Nepalis who were fortunate to explore this land of opportunity prior to that. The immigration trend continues to rise. Due to lack of demographic data base, this paper only focuses on the overall scenario and circumstances and other related concerns of these Nepali immigrants with specific focus on the women.
It is a well-known fact that opportunities and challenges go hand in hand. In other words, challenges are cross roads leading to opportunities. According to Darwin’s theory of struggle of existence, each individual has to struggle in order to mitigate challenges to survive. More challenges would lead to opportunities of evolution and adaptation that make survival easier. If an individual is equipped with knowledge and skills to meet those challenges, they would lead to successful life. All Nepali women are great adventurers, so are the Nepali immigrant women in America (NIWA). Everyone has had a unique journey and expedition. Nepali women have used their talents and skills in order to settle in the new environment and start over new life. Most journeys may have started from a pair of suitcases with personal belongings without any or limited support from their family, friends, relatives and/or loved ones. Naturally, it’s tough and challenging. In the US, pursuing happiness and opportunities are embedded in the constitution. It’s a law of the state to protect human rights. There are tremendous opportunities in the US and it is a melting point for all. But the journey is not always easy. And Nepali women here have faced such enormous challenges just like other immigrants. Based on the needs, priorities and situations faced by the NIWA, the following sections summarize those challenges and propose possible solutions to address those challenges.
Possible Challenges and Problem Solving for NRN Women in the US
General Challenges start since women land in this land of opportunity. Challenges may vary according to status of NIWA be it as students, tourists, working visa immigrants, diversity visa or undocumented immigration status. There might be others and their issues may not limited to the following situations. How to use pay phone to contact someone from airport?, whether someone would come pick up or not, how to get a cab, is public transportation available, where to go, whom do I live with, how to adjust with other families, what to do for survival and family support, do I get a job, when do I start working? Would that job be suitable or not? how to communicate with employer, customers, or other individual across the journey, how to maintain legal status in foreign land, when and how to start legalization process, how can apply for state ID or social security, driving license or other required documentation and so on and on and on..
Problem Solving: In order to overcome these challenges, Non Residential Nepalese National Coordination Council (NRNNCC) of USA would launch volunteer orientation work shop programs in order to facilitate Nepali women in USA. NRNNCC USA could build up coordination with other community based organizations and individuals who support Nepali Women. Other services include updating such type of information in NRNNCC of USA women coordination committee web site and providing essential information that would transform said challenges into possibilities. Encouraging Nepali women to write certain stories and adventures in USA could be the best information and resource for new comers in USA, which can be published in our web site and magazines as well.
Lack of English Language is the foremost problem for first generation Nepali women facing in USA. For example, majority of women are forced to work in beauty salon without license. They work as a babysitter without child care license and they are limited to work for South Asian families due to language barrier with other communities. This limitation usually results in unfair disadvantages and deprives the NIWAs from getting certain benefits and better pay which they deserve. First generation Nepali women are unable to guide their children in their home work, or, read prescriptions or understand drug doses which are common daily needs.
Similarly, lack of communication in Nepali language in second generation Nepali women or girls or children is another big challenge that creates gap between the two generations, leads to misunderstandings, affects emotional attachment, and deteriorates family strengths, values, co-operation, harmony and peace.
Learning Nepali to English and vice versa develop Nepali community women as bilingual which is the major tool to preserve our mother tongue, promote Nepali literature, cultural heritage in USA in addition to promoting family unity and strength. Bilingual new generation women could be the bridge to strengthen Nepal -America relationship and open up myriad of opportunities that support Nepalis in diverse field.
Problem Solving: NRNNCC USA should develop and launch bilingual training courses with collaboration from other organizations with similar mission and objectives. International Nepali literary Society in USA conducts several literary programs in several states through chapters. They play a vital role in order to promote Nepali language and literature. I believe, however, that the specific programs targeting the children should be prioritized in the future. Given their different developmental age and needs, children are the most impressionable and focusing on early learning goes a long way.
Lack of Knowledge, Information and technology are basic challenges for the first generation Non- residential Nepali women in the United States. Lack of adequate knowledge about available opportunities in USA is one of the biggest challenges for Nepali women. Majority of NIWAs are not aware or know a little about health insurance, life insurance, licensing process and available learning language classes or GED courses. Many women who have graduated from Nepal are unaware of the resources or opportunities to step forward to pursue degree from the US Universities or Colleges. Majority of the students are lacking guidelines and accessible recruiters when searching for scholarship, financial aid, better opportunities and in understanding the scope of their education (degree and skills) with respect to finding lucrative jobs in the USA. Due to lack of co-ordination, communication and rapport building skills, women who obtain degrees from USA are unable to secure or hold a professional jobs in the US. Even highly qualified Nepali women still enroll in odd jobs due to various untoward circumstances, some of which we just mentioned above.
Problem solving: “Knowledge is Power”. NRNNCCUSA would provide various opportunities for NRN women in USA coordinating experts and NRN women in the USA according to their interests and ability. Facilitating and recruiting women providing essential information to enrich Nepali women, capacity building, developing skills and helping them to advance their career by exploring better opportunities. NRNNCCUSA will try and forge collaboration with job consulting agencies, invite experts in various fields to give talks and training on how and where to apply for jobs and hold conferences/informal gathering to provide a platform to build networking among Nepalis.
Lack of gender sensitivity: We in the Nepali community have deeply rooted conceptual, traditional challenges that we still face here in the US, same as in Nepal. Majority of the first generation Non Residential Nepali women in USA engage in non professional job such as baby sitter, house keeper, cashiers, beautician in order to fulfill house hold needs and support husband’s education. Men are benefited in terms of strengthening their professionalism as Nepali women sidestep and delegate themselves as second class citizens for the sake of their families.
Problem Solving: We do support Nepali family values and nurturing nature of women and her place in the family. However we advocate for the recognition due for the empowered women of today. We advocate for the equal standing of the Nepali women in the US, possibly even set examples for our counterparts back home that: “Yes. We Can. And we do it all. Family and Work”. Conducting gender training for men and women that is inclusive and would promote our social values, recognize women’s capability and build their capacities, necessitate their empowerment for betterment of a family as a wholesome unit. Men and women are equal contributors in the family. Gender education is one effective means for social transformation that has become essential in the Nepali community. Spouse (husband and wife) or all siblings (brothers and sisters) including in-laws should get equal opportunities to advance their academic and professional career.
Lack of awareness and Empowerment prospective are other challenges as women do not realize their strengths and values in their family, society, country and beyond.
Problem Solving: Conducting awareness and women empowerment programs enable women capacity so that they will be equipped enough to fit in with better opportunities and with varied job responsibilities. Women should know their potential and strength. Women should learn to love themselves as much as they love their near and dear ones. Time management is the key for women that would provide better opportunities for them to move forward. NRNNCC is committed to organize events, support groups for Nepali women where they would learn time management skills, build self-esteem and learn self-care.
Women empowerment programs can be held through education, trainings, economic activities, education sessions on legal rights, necessity of integrated affirmative action plans and projects etc. Women empowerment program should be implemented in different aspects such as licensing for child care, nails, facial and cosmetics, pharmacy technicians, nursing, medical assistance and other license programs. NRN women in USA would have opportunity to be a certified school teacher, or early child hood teacher. NRN women in USA possibly do not know much about NRNNCCUSA, the organization that is working for their empowerment, advocating their rights and offering duties towards their native land, offering broad prospective and generally promoting Nepali Women’s status in the USA. It would be great if the majority of NRN women in USA get familiar with and/or get online membership and understand the scope of being a member of this organization.
Lack of Civic Sense and misuse of social media: Rights and duties go hand in hand. A little learning could be a dangerous thing. Women who represent social organization or even as an individual, should be more cautious on using their freedom of speech and exercise their rights prudently. In this age of social media written messages leaves a digital footprint which may at times lead to character deformation. Misuse of mass email and social net work like face book and twitter are the major concerns Nepali women should be aware of. The laws in the US are sometimes more stringent and there may be negative consequences to seemingly innocent acts by the immigrants unaware of the laws here. For example, posting nude baby pictures may not be culturally inappropriate back home but it could become a legal issue here in the US.
Problem solving: Educating women for civics, morals, ethics, rights and duties along with proper use of social network would prevent Nepali women from possible legal prosecution brought about by lack of awareness. NRNNCC is committed to hold workshops and discussions on how to bridge the cultural gap and provide education on such legal issues.
Lack of community based programs for Nepali women should be addressed promptly and broadly. Merely celebrating “TEEJ” and celebrating Women’s Day do not show that women are acknowledged in the Nepali community. Having hundreds of not-for profit organization and nominating Nepali women as board members also do not show the commitment required of the Nepali community in acknowledgement of women’s contribution. Nepali community in the US is in the evolutionary process. It is essential that Nepali community realize women’s talents, strength and power for uplifting our family, community, society and beyond.
Problem Solving: Sustainable community based programs should be implemented. Women are preservers of culture, ritual language and our original school of thoughts, family values and morals. Interaction programs between women is required in regular basis. Sharing of different talents, ideas, knowledge and skills can help each other. And these values are what NRNNCC commits to uphold and foster.
Domestic violence, Sexual harassment /exploitation, family conflicts, separation, divorce, losing children because of unsuitable parenting are the challenges that create unhealthy environment within a family and deteriorates family harmony and peace.
Problem Solving: There might be several methods to meet these challenges. Women would have so many opportunities to resolve these problems. Counseling, social motivation, conflict resolution, coordinating with legal professionals and social workers, educating each other by sharing stories could be the effective tools. NRNNCC will provide community resources, contact information on Domestic Violence shelters, connect with safe hot-lines to discuss sexual assault or other issues, organize a support group to talk confidential issues as needed.
Suffering from sexually transmitted disease (STDs); STDs like HIV aids in addition to prostitution might not be one of the major concerns, however, these are also upcoming challenges in our community and Nepali women are becoming the victim of said problems knowingly or unknowingly.
Problem Solving: Health education and knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and preventive measures is essential. There are tremendous resources, non for profit organizations and government policies and programs to resolve these challenges. Community based organization such as NRNNCC USA will take initiatives to launch awareness program, free testing programs, educate men and women, teen age girls and boys among other community members.
Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD): There are several cases existing in our community especially in new generation, children born in USA found suffering from ADD. They lose their focus, distraction and act different from other more adjusted kids.
Problem Solving: More research needs to be done on issues like ADD and the prevalence of ADD in our children. Psychological therapy, counseling and medical treatment are the available opportunities for solutions. NRN could organize orientation classes and in taking steps in solving these existing problems.
Depression and mental illness: This is one of the challenges NRN women are facing in the USA. Mental dilemma to whether settle in the USA or go back to Nepal, family detachment, lack of family support, difficulties to adjust in new circumstances, job stress, family stress, struggle to survive in unfavorable environment, long work hours, inadequate sleep, lack of inspiration, motivation and negative feedbacks may be some of the primary causes that affect lives of Nepali women here in the US. Some women may be fortunate enough to be able to face these adversities with strong will and self-esteem, however, there are some of us who may not have the resources and support and are unable to sail through the tough times and this may ultimately lead to depression and eventually, even, suicide.
Problem Solving: NRNNCC will act as one of the support center or a referral agency to other agencies providing mental health counseling, support groups for people in need. The confidentiality will be maintained and prioritized.
Lack of solidarity is one other challenge Nepali women in the US need to overcome to achieve common goals. Like in the contest of Nepal where our society is in the process of active disintegration. Communal values, party interests and individual interests prevail over national interests. Similarly, women are victimized by other women. “Sisterhood is powerful” has become mere slogan and as something just to say but not being implemented in the real world. Knowingly or unknowingly we have been divided. We are influenced by social conflicts.
Problem Solving: It is not hard to understand, “United we stand and divided we fall.” But, it is difficult to implement. There is no doubt that Nepali community is filled with women who are leaders, artists, writers, social activists, community workers, professional workers, scholars, entrepreneurs and so on. In addition to being good housewives and nonprofessional workers, Nepali women in the USA are also contributing enormously as an active practitioners of USA work force. Bringing together our expertise and helping each other out in need would build solidarity and make us stronger. Furthermore, forging a working relationships between different professionals and developing programs to take back home or for the benefit of the Nepalis living here is be something NRNNCC is committed to work on. NRNNCC could be used as a common platform for these entrepreneurs to come together and begin realizing their aspirations.
Generation gap, Problems and Priorities : Generation gap is the challenge immigrants in USA all over the world are facing more or less the same way. First generation Nepali women build up thoughts that are based on family values, Nepali culture, rituals, values and circumstances. However, second generation girls or Nepali women adopt their values in terms of USA concepts, values and circumstances. First generation Nepali women have strong attachment to mother land Nepal however, that naturally lessens in the second generation and continuously goes down in the third and fourth generations. Excessive use of electronic device, internet and social network are associated challenges with new generations which affects real world socialization. New generation are losing their ground to make a balance what they learn in school and what they learn in their households. New generations are increasingly becoming confused and they are in dilemma between which is right or wrong and/or unacceptable. They are getting less perceptive, loosing interests towards Nepali language, culture, rituals, customs and community work. Deterioration of work ethics in new generation is also vital concern. Teen age girls are suffering in school being bullied and they might be submissive or not able to share their feelings with family and friends.
Problem Solving: Intergenerational dialogue would be the holistic approach for educating first generation, second generation or others in different areas such as learning Nepali and other languages from Nepal, social values, sharing Nepali and American cultural values, understanding each other and prioritising needs. Interactions between different generations can fill the gap between generations and all generations can acquire a new value system that promotes family understanding, promotes taking responsibilities and cultivates social harmony. Intergenerational dialogue could cultivate love and attachment to Nepali culture in the future NRN women in addition to preserving cultural heritage and reinforcing community evolution.
Lack of exposures: Non residential Nepali women deprived from having exposures to several US government agencies along with being informed for US rules & regulations, programs and policies, governance system in USA in different fields. NRN women are lacking exposures to non for profit organizations, health and life insurance policies and programs including alternative education and training programs. NRN women are lacking with exposure to political main stream in USA. Lacking exposure costs us utilizing available opportunities, resources such as the UN jobs and other high paid jobs. All Nepali literary individuals along with artists are with limited professional scope within Nepali community. Many designers are not able to show their talents or their expertise. Many doctors are struggling to get into residency. NRN women also lack information to be a small business owners.
Problem Solving: Exploring opportunities for Nepali women through building networks within Nepali community and beyond including various agencies, organizations, companies and parties certainly opens doors for opportunities for Nepali women. NRNNCC USA could play a vital role in providing opportunities for NRN women in the USA in building networks and conducting mentoring programs. Scholars, experts and successful stories would provide intellectual nourishment to NRN women in USA. Bringing professional women in medical field, IT, engineering, finance, social work, politics and other government and non-government agencies, corporate and companies to Nepali community, small business owners would inspire future generation to strive to be creative and productive and successful.
Single women: There are thousands of single Nepali women struggling for survival, supporting her children and her family. Single women are single for various reasons like voluntary decision to remain single, separation, divorce, becoming widowed or immigration issues that keep them apart from husband who lives in Nepal. Single women need more community support. There are several cases where single women are facing sexual harassment and exploitation. Societal perception on single women are still archaic. Journey in the foreign land is tough, especially for a single woman.
Problem Solving: Building networking among single women, organizing orientation to solve these problems, sharing stories of challenges and success could be helpful to solve the problem.
Lack of data: Due to lack of pertinent data, demographic statistics of NRNNCC USA women, it is hard to address all existing challenges, prioritizing them according to their needs and severity.
Problem Solving: A systematic way of collecting information, preparing descriptive data base is the primary task community based organization such as NRNNCC would be interested in carrying out. We will need a lot of support from expertise of people in the pertinent fields but it is certainly an area that would open areas of researches in the future and provide evidence for an informed advocacy for policy changes benefitting Nepalis in the US.
Lack of Financial Solution: Penny savings is penny earning concept is not widely implemented among NRN women. We work hard but we are our last priorities. Children, husband, in-laws, parents, siblings, relatives, friends and other family obligations come first. NRN women in USA do not have savings for their retirement. Majority of NRN women have non professional jobs with minimum pay and without life insurance, health insurance and benefit. Only few NRN women would have better jobs with pension and retirement plans.
Problem Solving: Economic empowerment programs and financial solutions workshops would guide women in finding better opportunities to set up their own priorities and start savings for their future.
To overcome the Challenges NRN women should start creating opportunities for themselves and also utilize existent resources in the community. Educating themselves, sharing their ideas and developing their learning aptitude certainly will lead them forward. Social activist and community based organization such as NRNNCC USA could play a vital role for developing women empowerment projects that are sustainable
This paper is the result of participatory approach of some of us, Nepali women. Following are the participants who contributed and shared their valuable ideas either in person or through the phone. I would like to share my gratitude to all involved who shared their ideas, time and I greatly value and acknowledge your contribution.
Participants in discussions held on March 1. 2015 Chautari Restaurant New York:
Bandana Koirala, Renu Sapkota, Geeta Pantha, Angola, Shakuntala Gnyawali, Brinda Rai, Punam Pandey, Kamala Prasai, Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar, Goma Sen, Gita Khatri, Pabita Pariyar, Bishnu Maya Pariyar, Neden Dangola. I ndividual who shared information on phone were Narbada Chhetri, Kunti Thapa, Bijaya Sharma, Suneeta Sharma, Sita Kharel, Amrita Rana, Piyush Sharma, Jagadamba Adhikaree, Uma Karki, Sita Koirala, Pushpalata Bhandari, Tika Chaudhari). Bhawana Koirala for technical support in writing the report.
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