From the moment of her birth in a southern Nepal border village, Nasreen was taught that her existence was unremarkable. Growing up she witnessed many atrocities against women. By age 9 or 10, her life seemed destined for the same oppressive path. She worked 15 hours per day in a Nepali sweatshop as a child laborer, receiving less than $2 per grueling shift and only if she completed the hundreds of garments demanded of her. She ate, slept and toiled in her prison-cell sized sweatshop workstation, too afraid to even look out of the window. By about age 21, Nasreen’s family had arranged her into a forced marriage. With the help of a kind stranger who taught her to read and seize her destiny, she escaped the sweatshop and forced marriage. “As girls, we are simply a commodity that is bought and traded as such. We are not human beings.” – Nasreen Sheikh
Determined to empower disadvantaged women, Nasreen founded Local Women’s Handicrafts, a fair trade sewing collective based in Kathmandu, Nepal. LWH is a social enterprise that empowers and educates disadvantaged women by providing a paid training program in design, sewing, weaving, embroidery, knitting, jewelry making and pattern work. To date, LWH has training hundreds of Nepali women – many of whom escaped forced and abusive marriages and all of whom are determined to escape poverty.
Nasreen’s seamstresses and artisans sew beautiful handicrafts each day and, in the process, sew the pieces of themselves back together too.
Nasreen has also launched a powerful public health and education initiative. She and the LW women have made and given away hundreds of biodegradable antibacterial sanitary pads to rural women and girls who cannot afford basic hygienic supplies. She’s led body image and women’s health workshops in cramped rural schools and villages for those who often suffer in silence and stigma.
Nasreen shatters everything anyone believes about the limitations of women, child laborers, fair trade, or even your environmentally irresponsible plastic water bottle. Although only 10 years ago, Nasreen could barely read or write, she is now giving talks around the world, about her work and the plight of child laborers and survivors of forced marriage for large internationals conferences such as the Foreign Trade Association (Brussels), Google (America), women’s conferences, dozen of universities and recently gave a TEDx talk.