Working For Change by Changing Work: Nepal's First Female Forklift Operator

The logistics industry is generally seen as a man’s world. Typically, it is men that manage, receive, supply and transport goods. It is rare to find women involved in logistics work, particularly in traditionally patriarchal countries like Nepal where women’s work is often confined to household chores. WFP Nepal’s Logistics Unit proves an exception to the rule. The office actively hires women to be part  of the team and provides them with skills and trainings to build their logistics capacity.  

Bhawana Thapaliya first joined WFP in 2008, where she worked on refugee operations. Today, she works as a Logistics Associate in WFP’s Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) team.  

“I gained my hands on experience in handling logistics work for the EPR team when the earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015” says Bhawana. Bhawana and her team began working at the Humanitarian Staging Area (HSA) within forty-eight hours of the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake ripping through the Himalayan nation on 25 April, 2015.  

“It was difficult for me to leave my family back at home and go to work. My parents were not happy with that. But what could I do? When duty calls, whether you are a man or a woman, you have to fulfil your responsibilities” she says. Bhawana's work illustrates how Nepali women are breaking traditional stereotypes and changing their roles in the workforce. “Transportation of food and humanitarian relief material via tractors, porters, mules and dzoes is usually managed by men in Nepal. But WFP empowers and trains women to do this kind of job” says Bhawana. 

“What I believe is that if we have a dream to achieve something, we should go for it. We should not be discouraged because of our gender. As it is said, millions of drops of water make the ocean, if all the women are united then we can change the world and the traditional thinking of the people”
Nepal is among the top ten most disaster-affected countries in the world, both in terms of mortality and number of events. Localized, recurrent disasters often threaten sustainable development – for example by damaging vital infrastructure or destroying livelihoods. Training and capacity building are critical elements in creating a state of readiness and gearing up to prepare for the next emergency. 

Today, Bhawana and other members of her team are working on improving local stakeholder’s capacity by providing them with essential emergency related training and workshops. “The more people and institutions know about emergency plans, priorities and who is doing what, the more lives can be saved by saving time in responding in the appropriate way” said Thapaliya. “We are also encouraging more women from government, security forces, and humanitarian agencies to participate in such trainings as it is critical to have women in the front line of any disaster relief work” she added. 

In her two years with the EPR team, Bhawana has travelled through the flat plains of Southern Nepal to the rolling Himalayas. She has been able to learn about Nepal’s unique topography which provides extraordinary logistical challenges to move commodities across the country. 

When asked what she enjoys most about her job she highlights two aspects - working during emergencies to provide lifesaving assistance and participating in trainings. Most recently she trained as a forklift operator, becoming the only licenced female forklift operator in Nepal.  

Although Nepal has made great strides in women’s representation in parliament in recent years, gender inequality is still a major problem, shaped by deeply engrained socially constructed gender norms and expectations concerning the roles and behaviours of girls, women, boys and men. In a country where most vehicles, but particularly forklifts and tractors, are driven by men, providing women the opportunity to train as forklift operators is a big step forward for gender empowerment. 

“Getting this certificate itself is a great achievement. But being a woman and being in a country where it is said that a job of a forklift operators is only for men and not for women, it gives you immense satisfaction to break that traditional stereotype” she says. “In many developing countries such as Nepal, women are not encouraged to pursue this kind of profession as it requires physical strength and technical skills to handle machinery. But I think women can equally qualify for such jobs.  I was surprised that I am the only female candidate for this training. I have great pride in this achievement and I hope that it will encourage other Nepali women to change their roles in the work place by breaking traditional stereotypes” she added.