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Melanie Hilton: ‘My Identity’
As an Inspirator in Nepal, I worked with ActionAid’s partner organization, the Muslim Community Development and Awareness Centre, seeking to educate and empower Muslim women to advocate, organize, and exercise their legal rights. In particular, my efforts were focused on combating the growing incidence of arbitrary divorce under Sharia law, i.e. talaaq.14. May 2012
Islamic law prescribes a distinct process for effectuating divorce whereby a man can initiate divorce by uttering the word "talaaq” three successive times. As a result, many Nepali Muslim women have endured the consequences of impulsive divorce, which include, but are not limited to, complete social ostracization, homelessness, and human trafficking. Exacerbating these effects is the lack of recognition of Muslim family law in Nepal’s Constitution.
The Inspirator programme is a short-term cross-cultural endeavour to find new solutions to old problems. Prior to my placement, I was briefed on ActionAid Nepal’s country strategy and priorities. Eager to imbue a ‘Human Rights Based Approach’ within the partner organization’s daily workings, my colleagues and I regularly sat in ‘Reflect’ style sessions – a popular ActionAid learning technique. These sessions enabled us to identify issues pertaining to talaaq and informed subsequent steps to diminish its popularity. Consequently, our course of action included a quick census survey to estimate the number of talaqqi women in the Nepalgunj area, outreach efforts urging Muslim clerics to counsel couples to seek a marriage certificate prior to a religious ceremony, and the introduction of streamlined processes to report and document cases of gender violence.
State-issued documentation helps ensure that the Country’s most vulnerable citizens are able to access vital resources during times of great hardship and need. As a crucial first step toward preventing many of arbitrary divorce’s most harmful effects, we coordinated a ‘Hamre Paheechaan’, ‘My Identity’ advocacy campaign, which helped over 1700 members of Nepal’s Muslim community secure birth, marriage and citizenship certificates. In addition to helping Nepal’s Muslims navigate near impenetrable bureaucratic channels in their quests for personal recognition, the ‘Hamre Paheechaan’ campaign aimed to inculcate a broader sense of civic inclusiveness. At every stage of the campaign, from the creation of the campaign banner – on which we collected thumbprints to represent the public’s endorsement – to the recording of a personalized radio-jingle that narrated issues confronted by Nepal’s Muslims, the local community was involved.
During this time, I worked closely with right holders and duty bearers, which enabled me to observe first-hand the importance of cross-national solutions to development challenges. As someone who was keen on gaining a hands-on grassroots development experience, the Inspirator program provided an unparalleled opportunity to learn, experience and contribute.