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Advancing Gainful Employment with Dignity, Respect and Pride for Gender Minorities

Pooja Singh Thakuri, 20, from Sarlahi District came to Kathmandu when she was six. She dreamed of joining the aviation industry, as mobility meant independence to her. She equally dreaded how discrimination, which she faced as a student might also creep in and affect her professional aspirations. In March 2021, Pooja joined Upaya: CityCargo as an intern in the logistics unit. “I’m excited to start my professional journey with an organization that promotes mobility, making transfer and transportation of goods easier”, she says, noting how it is also creating opportunities for young Nepalis to turn freedom of mobility into a viable income-earning job. Access to a workplace that values diversity and takes affirmative actions to advance disadvantaged communities such as gender minorities in different job roles means a lot to Pooja. Pooja calls her mother a shehero for her enduring supporting, which was critical to both endure and surpass the discrimination she often faced during high-school education when she came out of the closet as a lesbian. “I feel similarly safe, strong, and supported at Upaya,” Pooja observes. It is obviously easier to thrive in a career when you are not constantly frowned at.”

Pooja came to Upaya with nominal knowledge on technology and has now learned a great deal on ICT, soft skills, personal relations, and logistics management. Her job roles include data cleaning, systems update, as well as training and coordinating with the driver and rider partners. “I am building foundational skills that will help me advance in any sector. Logistics is growing in Nepal. I even see a career path in the making with Upaya City Cargo.”

"I feel safe, strong, and supported at Upaya,” Pooja observes (on the left). “With Upaya, the experience has been starkly different. Here I don’t have to hide my identity, my colleagues accept and respect me for whoever I am. I feel free and that’s the biggest satisfaction,” Sana shared". 

This June, as the world hoisted rainbow flags this June to commemorate Pride Month, at UKaid सीप, we reflected and inquired: what does it mean to be a gender minority in Nepal and how can we advance their access to safe and dignified skilling and employment pathways? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ+) people are amongst the most economically marginalized groups; many live below the poverty line (UNDP, USAID (2014), Being LGBT in Asia: Nepal Country Report, Bangkok). Social exclusion, discrimination, and violence in both private and public spheres lead many to drop out of formal education; many do not get the opportunity to access formal training—eventually reducing the chance of being employed or being a part of economic value chains altogether.

The 2011 census of Nepal tallied only 1,500 people as LGBTIQ+ but the rights groups have been quoted saying there are over 2.5 million LGBTIQ+ persons in the country and the population is largely invisible in official national statistics (UN Women, 2019). This also makes it significantly difficult to track statistics of underemployment.

Through partners such as Upaya City:Cargo, UKaid सीप is taking deliberate steps to advocate for inclusion of disadvantaged groups in skilling and employment. Upaya City Cargo’s partnership with सीप is designed to build digitally-literate and-connected Nepalis who are able to reap the benefits of the country’s transition to a digital economy. The partnership is accelerating and strengthening Upaya’s digitally powered platform and expansion to cities outside of Kathmandu to transform self-employment pathways for more Nepalis, while also enabling growth of e-commerce by addressing systemic logistics gaps in the supply chains for various sectors (like agriculture and manufacturing).

In its quest to build inclusion and ‘leave no one behind’, in February 2021, Upaya reached out to the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), to create and ensure inclusion of minority groups. To build lasting safeguards and an inclusive work environment, Upaya also organized training for its own staff. In March 2021, Pooja Singh Thakuri joined Upaya: CityCargo as an intern in their logistics unit, and Sana Aryal as their rider partner. Like Pooja, Sana Aryal, 23, a female-to-male transgender person from Butwal is studying his Bachelors' in Business Studies. To support his education, he tried finding and taking on various job roles in different organizations. “It was not very easy to find a job, but it was even harder to find dignified treatment at workplaces,” says Sana.

Before joining Upaya, Sana (in the picture) worked in the garment industry as an accountant and a receptionist where he felt bullied for his short hair or perceived “tomboy” attitude. “I had to even hide my identity, just to secure my job,” he ruminates.

Through BDS, Sana joined Upaya as a rider partner in March 2021 after undergoing training on digital literacy, financial literacy, e-payment systems, and customer relations. “With Upaya, the experience has been starkly different. Here I don’t have to hide my identity, here my colleagues accept and respect me for whoever I am. I feel free and that’s the biggest satisfaction.”

Upaya is implementing a job seeker-centric and market-relevant curricula and training that has been especially designed and tailored to help prepare the participants (i.e. underemployed and new drivers) to successfully join and reap the benefits of a growing digital economy. Training is delivered via blended medium—classroom, online, and on-the-job—and features a four-part module covering digital literacy, financial literacy, customer relations, and vehicle maintenance and road safety. Training is conducted free of cost as part of its on-boarding process on the app and has been digitized to optimize cost and ensure use even during periods affected by COVID-19.

Through सीप’s support, Upaya is taking one step after another to strengthen inclusion and diversity in the broader logistics industry. Upaya has also approached local women-led organizations to forge win-win collaborations such as with Maiti Nepal, Pourakhi and AMKAS Nepal who actively work towards servicing trafficked women, women returnee migrants, marginalized and disadvantaged groups—to meaningfully integrate untapped and disadvantaged sections of society into the fast-growing e-mobility and logistic employment space. Upaya has also approached the Nepal Transport Women Driver Group to mobilize more women driver partners, and its network of corporate houses to finance basic driver training and license acquisition process for women and disadvantaged driver partners.

In recognition of Pride month, we reiterate our commitment to continue working towards addressing systemic inequality that historically disadvantaged groups face in the world of employment. Skilling youth like Sana and Pooja for safe, dignified and gainful employment with emerging industries and job roles is the kind of steps we will seek to further. There is much more to be achieved and सीप will continue to strive for increased and meaningful inclusion and equity with its partners. By devising appropriate inclusion-building policies, with inputs from experts and through pursuit of shared-value collaborations with wider market actors, businesses such as Upaya can promote affirmative changes. The examples featured here is worth sharing far and wide so that more industries can play their part in mobilizing and empowering people who need their support the most.