Candid Report Charts path for Nepali Women trapped by Discrimination and Poverty

Dec 15, 2004


Kathmandu, Nepal, 15 December -- Systematic discrimination pervades women’s lives in Nepal and has stripped most Nepalese women of their dignity, self-respect and confidence, says a radical new report launched today in Kathmandu. The Nepal Human Development Report 2004 says that the country’s Constitution provides protection for women in Nepal, but the Government has not taken significant action to implement its provision. This forthright report is more than a mere hand wringing of women’s plight in Nepal. It recommends drastic changes for transforming the current status of women and other excluded and exploited groups in Nepal.

Women face systemic discrimination, particularly in mountainous and rural areas, where religious and cultural tradition, lack of education and ignorance of the law remain harsh barriers to their exercise of basic rights. The Constitution stipulates non-discrimination and equality are fundamental rights. However, Nepal’s State laws and social and religious norms still relegate women to inferior status.

 “Large sections of the population continue to face discrimination and exclusion in everyday life in Nepalese society,” says Sriram Pande, the lead author of the Nepal Human Development Report 2004. Empowerment of these citizens should be the top priority of all government and non-government organizations working in Nepal. This will require dynamic social transformation clearly posited in the report.”

“This path-breaking report is written entirely by Nepalese. Their message is that Nepal is going through a trying time, but with dramatic shifts in current policies and resource allocations, Nepal can close the gaps between the haves and have-nots, give voices to the voiceless, and hope to the marginalized,” says Matthew Kahane, UNDP Resident Representative in Nepal. “What makes this report so courageous is its clarity in defining the country’s political, economic and social challenges, while also offering detailed and dramatic policy conclusions.”

According to the report, women’s literacy rate is 35% compared 63% for men. Boys predominate in secondary and higher education, with girls’ enrollment rate decreasing as they get older. Maternal mortality rates of Nepali women rank among the highest in the world; one out of every 185 women dies because of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. More than one out four deaths of women aged 15-49 years is due to childbirth complications.

Women remain vulnerable and dependent on men. Although a husband may keep property in the name of his wife, she cannot sell, rent or otherwise transfer it without the consent of her spouse and sons. Household confinement, limited education, and little or no access to land restrict women’s ability to obtain credit and gain financial independence. Given the socio-cultural values, Nepal has one of the highest indices of son preference in the world.

Poverty accentuates the hardship of women’s lives. Overall 38% of the population lives in poverty. In these households women often bear the disproportionate burden of work, receiving little recognition since family and farm labour is considered economically unproductive. Most women workers – more than 70% -- are trapped in low-wage, low-skilled sectors, with the concentration of their work in unpaid or subsistence labour. Although they are slowly joining the expanding modern sector- particularly in manufacturing trade, commerce and tourism – they are largely relegated to low skill jobs because of their lack of education and training opportunities.

Violence and exploitation against women vary with religions, caste, class and geographical location. The problem is more serious among Dalit women, says the report. “Due to stereotyped roles and economic dependence, women perceive such behaviour as normal. The violence is therefore accepted,” concludes the report. Domestic violence is on the rise because of the absence of comprehensive protective measures and weak enforcement, it says.

Though Nepal has very stringent laws regarding the trafficking of girls and women, this kind of violence persists, largely because of poverty, says the report. The porous border with India alone contributes to the trafficking of some 12,000 girls and women a year, 20% of whom are younger than 16 years.

Women’s political participation and access to positions of power are restricted by their limited access to education and economic resources, according to the report. Women’s representation in the civil service amounts to a mere 8% of approved civil service positions. Although an increasing number of women have stood for election in the House of Representatives, their share still hovers at less than 10%. Those actually elected count for less than 6%.

“Women’s empowerment calls for their right to develop their intellectual capital, along with broadening their access to physical and financial capital,” says the report.  Along with women, the publication points to other disadvantaged groups, including Nepal’s poorest in the mid-western and far-western regions, Dalits, children, and the disabled. “Given the geographic dimension of exclusion in Nepal, the path towards empowerment for these citizens lies in the devolution of true authority to their local governance bodies.” It calls on “authorities at all levels throughout Nepal to strictly enforce constitutional provisions and laws that ensure grassroots participation.”

The report calls for a dramatic reform agenda in Nepal. The detailed prescriptions, in part, include specific ways and means for improving the status of women in the country:

•    Discriminatory practices should be addressed through legal provisions. Women’s property rights concerning parental property must be guaranteed by amending existing laws.
•    Fair representation of women, Dalits and disadvantaged indigenous people at the parliament and local bodies has be guaranteed
•    The Commissions on Women, Dalits and Indigenous People should be made constitutional bodies
•    The State Council should be restructured to guarantee adequate representation of women, Dalits, and indigenous people
•    The empowerment of marginalized and disadvantaged groups must be enhanced through employment opportunities, education and skills training
•    Legal codes must be changed and legal aid provided to eliminate domestic violence. Broad-based awareness campaigns must strike at the root causes of domestic violence
•    Stringent legal and administrative measures must halt the trafficking of girls and women to India and other countries
•    Education should be compulsory at the primary level for both girls and boys
•    Quotas for Dalits, disadvantaged ethnic groups, women and the poor in general should be established at the secondary and higher levels of education
•    Primary health care should be available to every citizen

In its conclusion, the report notes that changing long-standing institutional culture that governs Nepal’s decision making processes will not take place without radical changes in mindsets of those who work within them. But this need not take generations. “There is simply no reason to believe that the country that gave the world the transformative experience of Buddhism in the 5th century B.C. cannot mobilize the indigenous capacities of its diverse people to transform mindsets legally sanctioned only in the 20th Century.” It says that the many elements of Nepal’s diverse religious traditions augur well for transformations of the current status of women and other groups that cut across caste lines.

Contact informationFor more information pls. contact Ms. Sangita Khadka, Development Communications Officer, UNDP Nepal, Phone 5523200 ext. 1077.

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