As a girl growing up in Nepal, Rita Thapa was lucky enough to attend school—unlike many of her peers. However, she still witnessed and experienced the many ways that women were disadvantaged just because of their gender.
“I knew that even though I came from privilege, I didn’t have the same status as men,” Rita says. As an adult, this awareness inspired Rita to start Tewa (meaning “support” in Nepali). Rita launched Tewa in 1995—the country’s first, and still only, women’s fund—in order to support grassroots women’s groups and raise their visibility in Nepal.
Since then, Tewa has helped build and strengthen hundreds of grassroots women’s rights groups. But when Rita founded the organization, she did so with nothing more in her pocket than a single grant from Global Fund for Women. Rita says Global Fund for Women immediately believed in her vision of building women’s power and agency in Nepal, and backed up this belief by giving her the funding she needed in order to move Tewa from idea to reality.
“Global Fund for Women told me ‘Rita, you could really do this. We’ll send you some money right away.’ And they did,” Rita says.
Global Fund for Women stood by Rita every step of the way as she raised the profile of Tewa internationally and within Nepal, connecting her with donors and activists across the globe.
“[After we first started], the money then came because everyone, including Global Fund for Women, was putting a good word out,” Rita says, adding that Global Fund for Women’s support served as a powerful endorsement that emboldened other funders to support Tewa, too. “People knew Global Fund for Women, and people knew that it was an organization that sought out women’s groups who are doing the right kind of work. What Global Fund for Women does—it’s trusted so much.”
Global Fund for Women’s support extended far beyond Tewa’s early days, and continues today. When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, thousands of Nepali women and men were left injured, homeless, and in dire need of help. Global Fund for Women immediately began a crisis fund for Nepal and, from that, granted Tewa $70,000 in order to support the immediate needs of women and girls following the earthquake and to help in long-term recovery.
“The support came from all over, without us asking for it. Global Fund for Women had a big role in that,” says Rita. As the country continues to rebuild after the earthquake, Tewa has played a key role in supporting vulnerable communities and addressing the unique needs of women and children.
Q&A: Rita Thapa, Founder of Tewa
How is Global Fund for Women’s support different from other groups?
Development aid at the time [that Tewa was founded] was very politicized. Women got pittance support from the aid, and whatever aid went for development here in Nepal went mostly to men-led organizations. The trust [from Global Fund for Women] was the most valuable. It was everything: the moral support, the community, the funds, and then knowing that the funds would come, if not directly from Global Fund for Women, then through the network of people I met through Global Fund for Women.
What else was valuable about Global Fund for Women’s support?
We [in Nepal] know the politics of development aid. But Global Fund for Women never made it cumbersome for us. The value of Global Fund for Women has been in intellectual relationship-building, and in its reflection of feminist values and principles. It’s not just about what we do, but about how we do our work and how we build real relationships.
How has Global Fund for Women affected your work?
These are people that I respected and loved, and therefore their issues became mine as well. It’s been a very, very inward journey. I don’t believe that we can do good work on the outside without changing from the inside. I think, had I not met these people, I don’t think my life would have been as rich or my work as deep.
[Photos credit: Alison Wright for Global Fund for Women. See more from her travel to visit Nepal grantee partners.]