Learning and unlearning through role-play

How participatory gender workshops are enabling communities in Nepal

How participatory gender workshops are enabling communities in Nepal

By Nabin Baral, Labisha Uprety and Gitta Shrestha, IWMI

IWMI-Nepal has introduced a  Participatory Gender Workshop Manual in Dailekh and Sarlahi, Nepal, implemented in collaboration with local partners Everest Club in Dailekh district and the Bagmati Welfare Society in Sarlahi district. The manual, prepared with the support of the Water for Women Fund, an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as part of the Australian Aid program, can be used to stimulate discussions among communities and governmental or non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders  working in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector on gender norms, roles and relations in community and project areas. This manual is a follow-up version of Leder et al. 2016.

  • A group photo of workshop participants with IWMI researchers during the ToT of the Participatory Gender Workshop in Dailekh District Nepal

All photos: Nabin Baral / IWMI


The manual encourages safe spaces where constructive dialogue can be held. It  includes the Training of Trainers (TOT) approach and orients the facilitators on concepts such as gender, sex, and intersectionality. It helps participants to evaluate and question their own understanding, knowledge and experience of gender relations. In addition, it provides facilitation tips to navigate inclusive and participatory dialogues and discussion on contextual gender and social norms. At the project level, it aims to encourage and contribute project staff in gender sensitive planning, design and implementation.

The manual can be used to reflect and discuss gender and related ideas in the community. It is particularly useful to educate communities on the links between WASH and unequal gender relations, especially when new projects are initiated at the community level and local groups are formed to oversee them.

The Participatory Gender Workshop could be implemented in approximately four hours with 6 to 8 participants taking part in three activities. The three participatory activities and discussion are:

  1. Man or woman where participants are encouraged to reflect on their own internalized perception and understanding of gender.  The activity follows a discussion about how society and culture play a large role in what it means to be a man or a woman.
  1. Gender Positioning Bar where participants critically examine and review productive and reproductive tasks, and discuss the social underpinnings on why men and women are relegated to different tasks.
  2. Bargaining Role Play where participants are encouraged to resolve conflicts and evoke empathy, by role-playing and thereby understanding what life is like for the other gender.

IWMI researchers oriented community mobilisers  on the first day of the training, and on the second day, the trained mobilisers faciliated the workshop amongst relevant stakeholders including locally elected officials using the manual.

Mina Singh is one of the members of Village Assembly of Dungeshwor Rural Municipality in Dailekh district of Nepal. She is happy that she has clearly understood differences between “Sex” and “Gender” after participating in the Workshop in Dailekh district.

She is now eager to share this knowledge and understanding.

She stated, “This gender training helped me to understand how the roles and responsibilities are divided in our home and society on the basis of gender in the context of WASH. Now I know this can be changed. If we can change and balance the workload of male and females in our society, I think we can make our village and society happy and prosperous. I strongly recommend this gender training to be implemented at village level.

Reflecting on the role-play game, another female participant noted, “While acting as the father in law, I could see the difficulties faced by my daughter-in-law for water, but still, as head of house, I was dominantly ordering her that she should take responsibility of water management in the house. But later on, I realized that as a lead position in the house, I should have used the time, understanding and power to bring water facilities to the house rather than scolding my daughter-in-law for not fetching enough water. I realized change is possible if the members who have power, knowledge and resources initiate a problem-solving approach in family and community in the context of WASH”.

Stimulating discussions on WASH related gender stereotypes shaped by the workshop continued in Sarlahi. A participant recounted an incident when trying to purchase sanitary pads for this wife: ‘I went to a pharmacy to buy it, but the shopkeeper kept giving me child diapers. People are still shy to talk about menstruation and sanitary pads. Everybody knows about this subject but all try to hide it…. It seems simple when we talk about sanitary pads, but its availability and disposal facility is directly linked to opportunities that females get in their life’.

During the wrap-up session, participants expressed that they thought the workshop would indeed be a useful tool to enable behavioral changes at the family and community level. Dismantling gender norms will take more time but it could begin with conversations and discussions on them at the community level.

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