Just south of the Kuwa district of Janakpur is an unassuming compound that houses an exceptional group of women with a noteworthy goal. The Women’s Development Center is dedicated to advancing women’s empowerment through the promotion of the 2,800-year-old Mithila artistic tradition.
Sometime after the 9th-century in the Videhas Kingdom of Nepal, the distinctive two-dimensional Mithila style of art began to emerge. Originally, the artwork was painted on the mud walls of homes in the Terai region—as it still is in some sections of the Kuwa district—particularly during the Diwali festival. Unlike other traditional painting styles like mandalas and thangkas that primarily use religious symbols and themes, Mithila art incorporates images from daily life, particularly focused on the lives of women.
In the 1970s, wall art made its way to the paper and canvas, and in 1989, the Women’s Development Center opened as a first of its kind endeavor to employ women from surrounding villages to produce original artwork. Today, approximately 40 women work at the center to learn various art techniques and business practices, while producing paintings, ceramics, screen-prints, and other handicrafts for the international art market.
Although democratic reforms in the past 25 years have sought to improve the lives of Nepali women, many laws designed to promote equal rights go unenforced in a nation that has been deeply patriarchal for centuries. The Women’s Development Center is now one of many organizations throughout Nepal that seeks to help women take control of their lives through better education and economic empowerment.