Remarkable activist Bandana Rana shares her powerful story as a leader of the women’s movement in Nepal

Bandana Rana is a passionate lifelong advocate for women's rights and gender equality both in her home country of Nepal and internationally. She has spent more than three decades actively engaging in the areas of violence against women, gendered conflict, transformation, peacebuilding and engendered media through the different organizations and networks she has co-founded and led.

In May, Bandana was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chairman of the Zonta International Leadership Development Committee.

Bandana spoke about growing up in Nepal as the oldest of four children. Though she was raised in a happy home, Bandana recalled the first time she realized that she was treated differently from her brothers.

When she went through her first menstruation, Bandana was told she was impure as a girl and could not cast a shadow to the sun or to men and was confined to a dark room for 21 days. 

“I went through trauma of having this inferiority complex that I’m not the same as my brothers,” she said. “I got used to it, but now that I reflect, that’s how it started.”

In 1986, shortly after television came to Nepal, Bandana started her career as a young journalist in a field dominated by men. She received a scholarship and traveled to the Netherlands for a news and current affairs production course, where she experienced culture shock. 

Bandana had always excelled at school but was not used to being asked her opinion. As a young mother in her mid-20s, she was finally learning her potential and finding her identity.

“I first realized at the age of 25 that I have a mind of my own,” Bandana said. “I have a voice; I have an opinion and my opinion can be different from other people—even elderly males—and I can still be respected.”

Years later, Bandana was in awe when she attended the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she realized the power of the women’s movement.

“I think that is what led me to establish so many organizations, coalitions and networks, because I feel that we need to work together,” she said. “We need to hold hands together and carry other women.”

As one of Nepal’s key leaders of the women’s movement, Bandana has advocated for women for more than 30 years. Her many years of dedicated work have been particularly through the two organizations she co-founded and led in Nepal: Saathi, a nongovernmental organization working on violence against women, and Sancharika Samuha (Women’s Media Forum).

Since 2017, she has been a member of the UN CEDAW Committee—the first Nepali woman to be elected to this position. She was the vice-chair of the committee from 2018-2020 and is the focal point for women's peace and security. Bandana was recently nominated as a member of the UNFPA High Level Commission on ICPD+25 for three years and she was also a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group (2012-2015).

Bandana pointed out that her work is a collective effort, and it is important to have a network on which to rely for help. In addition to joining hands with other women, Bandana believes alliances with men are vital to advancing the movement.

“I have found that when men and women work together, the work is speedier,” she said. “I think we need to educate our young boys. We need to groom them that way and that's what's going to be the change.”

When asked about her greatest gift as a remarkable woman and a leader, Bandana discussed her tendency to give 100% to whatever she is working on.

“Sometimes I forget what is around me when I’m doing something and I’m totally absorbed with it, and that gives good results.”

She also credits her positive attitude, patience, tolerance, and discipline in taking care of herself and getting enough sleep.

In her closing remarks, Bandana said, “Life is beautiful if you perceive it beautifully. You need to love everyone and extend and share that love and happiness.”

Though her work sometimes keeps her awake at night because she cannot help everyone, Bandana said enjoying life, giving it her best, and spreading love and happiness is what keeps her going.

Click here for the recording of Bandana’s Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories session.


07 JUNE 2021