In the spirit of delivering as one UN, in 2019, the UNDP Electoral Support Project and UNESCO in Nepal collaborated on a range of different activities for the common goals of good governance and gender equality in Nepal. The two organisations worked together to launch the discussion of journalism and elections in the age of the Internet in Nepal, to support the Election Commission in bringing civic and voter education to the grassroots and to build the capacity of women journalists in reporting on elections.
In May 2019, Nepal marked the World Press Freedom Day with the theme: “Media for Democracy and Peace: Journalism and Elections in the Age of the Internet.” The theme naturally brought together UNESCO, the United Nations agency supporting World Press Freedom Day at the global level and having a long track record of working with journalists in Nepal and the UNDP Electoral Support Project, the leading United Nations technical assistance provider to the Election Commission. The UN agencies also helped bring together the other partners of the event: Nepal’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, the Election Commission, Nepal, the Federation of Nepali Journalists and the European Union. The one-day event saw all participants – including the organizers, media houses, academia as well as national and international development partners – express their commitment toward media for democracy and peace. It also launched the discussion around potential threats of social media to electoral integrity in Nepal.
Among the various themes that were discussed at the World Press Freedom Day, the need for more civic and voter education initiatives at the grassroots was highlighted and the Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya stressed his intention of working with local-level institutions for this purpose. Moreover, the Commission’s third Five-Year Strategic Plan also emphasises working with other government institutions for this end. As UNDP explored innovative ways of supporting the Election Commission in this regard, Nepal’s Community Learning Centres emerged as a potential channel. These centres are a network of 2150 community-based non-formal education institutions attached to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology UNESCO has been working with this network for more than 20 years, so it was natural for UNDP and UNESCO to work together in supporting the Election Commission in conceptualizing, piloting and implementing a capacity-building programme for nearly 300 of the centres. The collaboration also included support for the Election Commission to develop a package of 17 resource books on themes related to electoral education. These books will be used by community-level organizations to impart civic and voter education.
UNDP and UNESCO came together again to work with Sancharika Samuha, a forum of women journalists, to bridge the gender gap in electoral journalism. The Electoral Support Project was guided by a recommendation of the Election Commission’s Gender and Inclusion Policy and Strategy while for UNESCO this was an opportunity to build on its work of enhancing the capacity of young women journalists. The Electoral Support Project facilitated the customization of the Media and Elections module in the global Building Resources in Democracy Governance and Elections curriculum to the context of Nepal and Sancharika Samuha, a national NGO specialized in women journalism, delivered it to the participants via four workshops across the country. The facilitators included prominent media personalities as well as representatives from the Election Commission and District Election Offices. Following the training, many women journalists covered the reporting of the by-elections of 30 November 2019 from a gendered perspective, which was one objective of the collaboration.
The joint work reached a total of 927 participants, among whom were 523 female participants and one participant who identified as a gender and sexual minority. Across the activities, on average, 96% of the participants reported enhanced knowledge after receiving the respective trainings.
Bringing together the UNDP expertise in democracy, good governance and rule of law and the UNESCO expertise in media development, public information and promotion of freedom of expression allowed the two organizations to deliver a powerful package to contribute to Nepal’s efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.