In this paper I explore the ways in which women in a village called Badhiyagaun in the hills of Western Nepal speak about the experience of being a woman, mediated by metanarratives of nation, development and modernity. Development, or bikas in Nepali, is constitutive of the imagining of the Nepali nation state. In addition, the particularities of economic and social transformations in Nepal, and Badhiyagaun in particular, form part of new possibilities and constraints. I attend to how informants talk about who they are, who they are not, and what they may become in a context in which development as metonymic for modernity is hegemonic in Nepal. This is part of the at times intersecting and contradictory experiences of being a woman in Badhiyagaun (as wives, mothers and daughter-in-laws), being the ‘beneficiaries’ or ‘stakeholders’ of international development, being local NGO workers or members of a mother’s group or women’s saving cooperative.
In the paper I first present how the idea of development is constitutive of the construction and consolidation of the modern Nepali nation. I then describe how the notion of underdevelopment forms part of dynamics of social difference within national society. This is intimately linked to the construction of the underdeveloped rural woman as a ‘problem’ of development in Nepal. I consequently attempt to illustrate how this has come to bear on women in Badhiyagaun. In so doing I provide a description of ‘participatory’ development initiatives in Badhiyagaun targeted at women. Specifically I will trace the emergence, history and dynamics of membership in the village mother’s group and a local microcredit cooperative run by women. I illustrate a reframing of local narratives of gender and gender relations in part informed but not wholly contingent on these initiatives. In particular I show how women position themselves in relation to the image of the underdeveloped rural woman. In the last instance I attend to how some women construct an image of themselves as part of a “new generation” in which we can discern a claim to modernity that is predicated on the reification of social difference.