Women’s Skills Development Organization (WSDO) was created more than 40 years ago. It was the product of both crisis and extraordinary vision. The crisis came in the form of long-standing social and gender inequalities in Nepal. The vision came from a group of women who realized that enabling marginalized women to learn and develop new skills can transform their lives and communities.
The organization’s history began on International Women’s Day (March 8) in 1975, when a group of Nepalese women formed an association known as the Women’s Skills Development Project to empower poor, vulnerable and excluded women—who had no education, were dependent on or abused by their husbands, or generally in poor health due to a lack of money and other tough circumstances. Their insight was to teach these women new skills related to making handicrafts.
The project started with an investment of Rs 10000, just three working women and derelict property in Pokhara that had been granted by the local municipality.
In 1977, Ramkali Khadka joined the project and materialized its vision with formal programs and activities. At this time, trainings in sewing, cutting and knitting were provided, educational courses were held, health trainings as well as facilities were established, awareness on women’s rights and health was raised, advice on family planning and childbirth was offered, and counseling to help abused women was arranged. Over time, the main focus became creating and sustaining employment opportunities for women to become financially independent.
When democracy was introduced in Nepal in 1990, many non-governmental organizations that focused on health, education and human rights were established, and the Women’s Skills Development Project started to provide greater empowerment and employment opportunities, even for differently abled women, along with offering high quality, free vocational trainings in making handicrafts.
Due to the increasing interest in, and popularity of, the project and its results, commercial activities started in the early 1990s.
In 1994, the Women’s Skills Development Project was formally registered in the District Administration Office (Kaski), and in 1996 became a founding member of Fair Trade Group Nepal. In 2003, it joined the World Fair Trade Organization and with that, customer numbers began to greatly increase.
Since many people questioned the longevity and monetary support of the Women’s Skills Development “Project”, in 2010 the association changed the last component of its name to “Organization” to ensure its permanence and ability to exist without financial aid.
WSDO experienced an unforeseen setback in 2015, when it had to give up its established premises, which for forty years, it had developed, enhanced and adjusted. The then thriving WSDO was forced to move when the District Development Committee claimed back its once granted land. After one year of searching, new property was found nearby, but the task to make the organization what it was before the relocation proved to be a great challenge.
Since its inception, WSDO has also weathered other challenges. The search for markets where contemporary, handmade products would sell, and designing the right products at the right time was difficult. That said, the organization has been able to grow steadily with more and more women showing interest in the trainings and employment opportunities offered, and with more customers supporting WSDO’s artisanal craft and ethical production practices.
Today, as WSDO continues to grow, it remains hopeful that it can play an important role in transforming the lives of women in Nepal.