Women are such a force for good — and Kanchan Amatya is no exception. Since she was just a high schooler, she’s been working on global sustainability issues and now works with the UN Women on empowering women and girls around the world. A true girlboss if there ever were one. This week, we chatted with Kanchan about her feminism, women’s rights in her home country, and the power of women supporting women.
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
I am a global citizen, passionate activist, social entrepreneur, and a storyteller. While still at high school, I founded Sustainable Fish Farming Initiative – a female owned social enterprise based in Nepal dedicated to fighting extreme hunger and poverty through climate resilient and sustainable aquaculture in South Asia. I am also the UN Women’s Global Champion on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Under my role, I represent and provide a voice for young women, women of color, and mostly women in the global south who are mostly absent on the UN decision-making tables. While I was fortunate to win a scholarship to pursue my education across continents from Asia to Europe to N. America, I had to leave behind my girlfriends back home – who were mostly forced to leave school and get married. Since then I have worked and consulted with corporates, governments, and organizations furthering my works garnered towards sustainability and young girls and women’s economic rights.
How do you define feminism and how does that play a part in what you do?
Feminism simply means that you believe in equality of all gender. And, if you believe that everyone is born equal and should have equal- social, political, and economic- opportunity and representation, then you are a Feminist. Feminism to me means that you believe in a world where everyone has a fair chance, where everyone can access decent jobs and equal pay, where there is equal gender representation, where violence against women and girls is no longer a daily threat.
However, in developing countries like Nepal, gender inequality is an everyday struggle. For too long, out history has been a history of silence. To put things into perspective- recently, a young girl in Nepal lost her life due to strictly enforced regulations around menstruation – a tradition where society considers a menstruating woman impure and as an outcast during her cycle. This is not what equality looks like. Feminized poverty, child marriage, son preference, marital rape, unequal citizenship rights, female genital mutilation – I could go on and on about how discrimination still lurks and grapples everyday aspect of a woman’s life in my community. And, I am very vocal as a campaigner against all sorts of conservative ideologies that discriminate against women – so feminism plays a big role in what I do and the kind of world I want to live in – and I want to live in a world where everyone has an equal chance in life.
What’s the most challenging part of the work you do? The most rewarding?
Either be it through my work with Sustainable Fish Farming Initiative in Nepal which provides financial and technical assistance to rural women to fight hunger and poverty in their community or as a civil society representative to the United Nations facilitating advocacies related to gender focused policy areas in New York- my work gives me an opportunity to closely examine the unimaginable atrocities of violence and abuse inflicted everyday on women, specifically in Asia Pacific region.
Personally, being a young female social entrepreneur and an activist, working to support other women and women-owned businesses in a patriarchal setting has its own set of challenges and often comes with a big backlash. But, now, more than ever, I also understand how important it is for people from certain backgrounds, like myself, to represent communities that are often left in the shadows and their voices muted. Though the work has challenged me at times, I’ve continued in my fight to help the next generation of women- and that is personally both challenging and rewarding to me. You don’t often hear about someone with my cultural background fighting for economic and reproductive rights and it’s because there is still a stigma around it, but I’m working to change that- even if it going to take as long as I live.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from the women you’ve worked with over the years?
In a society that often tries to knock women down, one of the greatest sources of power I have realized that women have is the ability to lift each other up. Along this journey, I have learnt to always reach for the stars with one hand and to leave other hand near the ground to uplift other sisters around me! I have been blessed to work with women of different backgrounds, races, colors, and religions; from grassroots-level-advocates to first women Presidents – and almost everyone was there making a difference because a fellow sister – mother – mentor helped her. Through taking the time to mentor, advise, listen and simply care, a woman supporting another woman does some radical things. I also find it extremely important that we speak up to change the old narrative that has been defining womanhood for centuries – and to do it unapologetically. As young women, we should not be afraid to talk and to engage, because this world belongs to us just as much as it belongs to anyone else.
How can we follow and support your work?
I would like to direct everyone to the UN Women Empower Women website (https://www.empowerwomen.org) , to follow our work. Together, we are bringing together passionate and ambitious women and men from the private sector, civil society, academia, governments and international organizations from more than 198 countries to continue our fight for a fair and just world for all – it has a vast number of resources and opportunities available to advance gender equality. Also, you can get in touch with me on Facebook and Instagram to connect with me and follow my personal journey towards creating a just and sustainable world.