Monday, 24 February, 2020

Empowering Women

If we seriously want to empower Nepali women, the crusade should start from the rural areas. It is because the most vulnerable populace of women lives far from the centre and the urban areas. And the activists who say they are working for the rights of women should leave their usual urban working stations and go to the villages. The irony is that activists and task force members usually visit the comfortably located motorable areas, conduct interviews, research and write their reports. Discontent and rebellion may be brewing in far-flung and isolated nooks where the state of women is still primitive. These areas present the worst case scenario which calls for radical intervention of the government to change things for better. In the inaccessible corners characterised by deprivation, ignorance and backwardness, even calling women equal to men is not enough. They need to be brought out of their condition through positive discrimination. The rescue approach may need the combination of education, economic prosperity, social awareness, administrative backing, legal implementation and special programmes aimed solely at women empowerment. On top of all, the superstitious social stereotypes are the hardest to fight.

The government in the centre, and the activists need to reach out to highlight and address the grievances of the women who get abused on charged practicing witchcraft, beaten up, fed feces or lynched. News reports of such cases come in the media time and again even when we are talking about human rights, dignity and women’s empowerment commensurate with the call of the 21st century. There is still gap between what is said and what is practiced. Some women may not be able to exercise their rights as ensured by the law of the land. It may be hard to believe for some urban-centric women rights activists, but there are still women whose activities are confined within the four walls of home. Soot and smoke take heavy toll on their respiratory health as the kitchen they have to work in has no proper ventilation and the suffocating fume from the fuel wood is shortening their lives. Some women are compelled to deliver a baby in such a condition without the help of a midwife or woman health worker. They may die in labour pains if some birth complications arise. We have recently heard of some exception when women with birthing difficulties were airlifted to medical facilities in western hill districts. Such rescues were possible thanks to the President’s Women Uplift Programme.

Both men and women have to face hardships due to economic backwardness but the burden falls even harder on women due to gender discrimination and social stereotypes. For instance, the Chhaupadi practice prevalent in the far western hill districts of the country has multiplied the woes of women multifold. This practice puts women in secluded huts during periods, exposing them to untold health risks. Some girls and women become seriously ill or even die during their isolation in these damp, poorly-ventilated and worm-infested sheds. The superstition is that women become impure during menstruation and should not be kept at the same home where family gods are worshipped. Now the government has outlawed the practice and a campaign has been launched to demolish the menstruation huts. The government intervention is making an impact and the girls and women in their periods are living happily with their family members. 

How do you feel after reading this news?