19 Sep 2016 – Nepal being one of the developing nations, it is facing many difficulties in different sectors. As recommended by Jeffery Sachs one of the world’s leading expert on economic development there are 7 indicators by the presence of which a country can be poor and underdeveloped. Regrettably, Nepal is suffering from all those seven indicators. Among them one of the indicators is cultural barriers. It includes discrimination against women and girls.
Nepal has always suffered from gender inequality. It has seen uncountable numbers of simple to worst cases of gender issues. However, growing impact of globalization has led to the increment in number of people that are becoming more concerned about their education and empowerment. The role of different revolutions, programs that are women focused government policies for gender empowerment has finally included the role and participation of women in the constitution. These endless efforts since 2007 B.S in Nepal has been able to uplift women to the highest position in government. Time and again, the scenario has changed and Nepal has got the leadership of women in all the three constitutional bodies, Legislative, Executive and Judiciary.
It was not easy to bring women in highest position in the developing country like Nepal. There are so many hurdles and hindrances. Women are getting their rights in the constitution too. In context of Nepal the biggest question now is why women of our country are still so backward and marginalized even though there is presence of women in highest positions of government and the decision making body. To think about it there are various reasons behind it. In the developing country like Nepal, the women are being discriminated from the day of conception to death.
The day when the baby is in their mother’s womb, parents and family members start worrying if the fetus is a girl child. In most of the cases if a girl child is born they are abandoned and if not abandoned they are abide to live a life that is full of misery and troubles. In a country like ours, especially in rural areas right after a girl child is born she is discriminated in terms of fundamental rights like nutrition, nurture, clothing, education etc. On the other hand, if it is a boy child the entire family celebrates the birth and takes care of the baby boy in every way they can afford. One of the causes of this situation is poverty but another reason that is equally responsible is the backward thinking, narrow perspective and blindfold believe of people that has made them believe that having a girl child is considered to be unlucky.
Still in this 21st century majority of people living in rural areas of Nepal think that educating a girl is a waste of money and time as they are meant to get married and carry the responsibility of taking care of a household work for her entire life. Illiteracy, superstitious believes and poverty all together has affected people in rural areas. Culturally, it is perceived that the son is the main responsible to do the funeral activities of their parents and they would go to heaven otherwise they would go to hell. And also the birth of a baby girl is supposed as the result of doing sinful activities in previous life. So this traditional mindset still exists in the society.
Not only culture is the hindering factor for the women empowerment, but also the deep rooted poverty is also another problem. The discriminatory behavior of the parents, society, relatives on the investment of the girl child is another barrier. The girl child are send to the public schools which doesn’t need school fees whereas the boy child are send to the private schools by paying lots of money which is assumed to learn in a good environment with good results. The girls are also compelled to work the household works as they have to get married and take the responsibility of her husband house and the works. This seems that they are not getting adequate time for the education.
The facilities are also not provided in appropriate amount that the girl child need as compared with the boys. The high investment in boy’s results good achievement and girls gets poor results. However, since boy child is considered to take care of their parents in the future they are given more privilege right from their birth as compared to a girl child. Therefore, for those parents who cannot send their girl child to school because of poverty, government of Nepal should secure the right to education to every child.
The misery does not end here. Most of the women in Nepal are tortured to death if they are not able to bring enough dowries. Torture can be so brutal that sometimes they are beaten to death, attacked by acid or even burnt alive. In Nepal approximately 50 to 60 percent of women are facing dowry problem. For those who are not tortured to death would live a life full of hatred, discrimination and hard work in house and farm. It is a shared work between men and women in villages of Nepal to take care of the family. Men usually go to foreign and earn money for family and he is supported by his wife by taking care of family members and household works. But her sacrifice and efforts are not counted and is always oppressed. As women in village area are bound to take care of the family member she cannot get herself employed in any other activity she is good at. Even if she works outside of house as a shopkeeper or tailor or as any other profession she would still be counted inferior to her husband. Only few lucky ones get to live a normal happy and respectful life.This kind of attitude in people cannot be changed oreliminated by one or two awareness programs or projects that only last for few days. Ill mentality is so deeply rooted in these people that it seems impossible to bring change even in long run.
However, various organizations, NGO’s and government of Nepal is trying to come up with programs, campaigns and provisions to change the scenario of women in rural areas. The reason due to which provisions that is made by the government or any organization is not being effective is because the provisions and projects is developed according to what people in higher positions think is necessary for the village women. We lack participation of primary stakeholders in most of development projects. Due to this projects are usually not successful.
In case of middle class women the scenario is somehow better than the women in rural areas but they also suffer in a different way. No matter if they are educated or employed they are still substandard. There are lots of limitation and restrictions for the women of any class. Now a day, most of the women from middle class background complete their education, get employed and live as independent women. However, they are still seen less capable than men in many job sectors. Similarly, there are various categories in middle class background. Many women in lower middle class family are living life with facilities provided by their husband as most of them are only high school graduates. Due to this there is lack of employment opportunities for these women.
There is some NGO’s working to provide job opportunities to these women but they work in very small scale and can only facilitate less number of women. Neither the government has any provision for providing loans in low interest to women for business purpose. It is not only the case in job sector but also in their home. A girl child is kept more protected in such a way that she does not get to deal much with the outer world as compared to a male child. Because of this girls usually have less exposure and lessons learnt from outer world than boys. Usually, girls in middle class family have to cope up with lots of restrictions and judgments on her character from society based on her dressing style, haircut or even by the simple things like the time she comes back home. These all problems that women in middle class family goes through might not be as miserable as the problems faced by women in rural areas but it is still a suffocative life they are living. Therefore government should try to come up with employment opportunities for those women who are only housewives and also should provide equal pay in every sector from labor work to service works.
Another miserable truth of Nepal is that even though 33 percent seat is allocated for women in decision making body of parliament we still don’t have capable women to fill those seats. Some of the women who are already in the parliament rarely have high level education degrees. They are pushed up to higher positions only to fulfill constitution’s criteria. Most of the women who are in the decision making body are pulled to that position by favoritism. Women are presented just to fulfill the quotas but the role in decision making and financial sector seems zero and if the decision is done by women then it would be guided by the ideas of high class, forward, ruling women. Since they are more in number approval to pass any laws or to confirmation to implement any project depend on their votes. Women occupy 33% of seats in parliament but their influence on Nepal’s new constitution has been limited with participation only. The day when women would be free, independent to make decisions, then only they would have their roles. Otherwise, the subordination role of women would continue and women would be again backward in the mainstream of development.
Patriarchy is another challenge to women empowerment in Nepal. Apart from the lack of participation of men in empowerment of women, Nepal is suffering from another disease called “Misogyny”. It means women having a feeling of hatred or biasness towards other women. Misogyny is also a reason that has supported patriarchy and it’s never ending effects in women’s life. It is the unwillingness of women to accept that they are being discriminated and need to free themselves from the unreasonable suffering they are going through that leads them to support and continue the culture of being oppressed by men forever and also to pull other women into the trap. In a situation where women themselves have accepted this level of oppression as their reality, the only way to save them is to lift them let them know that they too have the right to exist in society as equals to men, get good education and be what they want.
However, some changes can be seen in some areas. Such as there is high improvement in living standard and life of women. In rural areas somehow due to government and NGO’s programs women have started to become aware about the rights they have. Women in rural areas are provided with awareness and vocational trainings so that they can be empowered from the place they are in now. Similarly, uneducated women in rural areas are at least made literate to some extent through the programs by organizations. Likewise, women are made aware about citizenship rights and the reproductive rights they have. Many governments related projects and organizations based programs has been able to raise confidence and skills of women in both rural and city areas by various means. Number of capable and inspired women is somehow rising.To keep half of the population in isolation is not justified both in terms of human right and social justice.
Though there are several plans, policies, laws, rules and regulations in favor of women empowerment, some changes are seen but not as adequate as it must be. The deep rooted social cultural and economic problems are the major. The first thing is women should be aware, independent to make decisions and the unheard voices should be listened. The quotas should not be fulfilled just for the name of participation, the space for the women’s voices, issues should be provided and the responsible authority should address the issues which would help women to bring in the mainstream of development. This would finally lead to gender mainstreaming and gender empowerment.
Shree Prasad Devkota is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.