Parbat Gurung who was elected to the House of Representatives from Dolakha constituency was appointed as the Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizens in present cabinet after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli reshuffled it on the basis of their performance. Efficient public delivery for the sake of women, children and elderly citizen in the country is expected from Gurung because he had replaced a female minister from the post for the poor performance.
International Women’s Day is on its way and issues of acid attacks on women, girls and human trafficking, dowry, superstition, menstruation taboo and killing the foetus has increased and the ministry has to deal with these issues. Publishing 100 days achievements on last Friday, the minister had committed for gender and social reforms. Gurung talked on various issues including ill practices of the society and the ways for finding solutions to them at a weekly Gorkhapatra Dialogue on Sunday. Excerpts:
You have completed 100 days in office as Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizens. What are the positive initiatives you have taken in the sector during this period?
When I assumed my office as a Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizens on November 21, 2019, I had taken this Ministry as a Social Ministry. We cannot call this Ministry as Women, Children and Senior Citizens, because we need to cover other aspects also. We also talk about the policy, and social reform through this Ministry. We talked about several reforms at the Ministry. It has a wide rage of responsibilities to address social issues. We see a lot of changes in course of social transformation. We see the changing trend of social norms and values established from the previous time in society. We emerged from the Stone Age, and slavery age and now we are in the 21st century, some of the culture and social norms are getting continued. They are established as a culture in the society.
There are a lot of superstitions in the society as a tradition like Chhaupadi (menstrual taboo), witchcraft, dowry, acid attack, girls and women trafficking and street children. In an average, 40 girls and women suffer from acid attacks every year in Nepal. There are a lot of laws and regulations against superstitions, but they are not implemented effectively and that is the sad part.
Superstition has become a part of the society, which is not only scaring the society but also defaming the name of the country in the international community. Sadly, international community knows us as a country of Chhaupadi, child trafficking, child marriage and sexual violence. Even though other development indices have shown positive outcomes, these activities have driven us to the negative direction in the international community.
The government is focusing on uprooting all these stigmas through laws and through awareness. Though we are on the way of abolishing menstrual huts from every corner of the country, abolishment of huts physically is not sufficient. It should be removed mentally, and we are working to remove all the social evils both mentally and socially.
Various tools have been tested for the way out. International Women’s Day is being celebrated on March 8, and the government wants to announce the country as Chhaupadi-free country on that day.
The working paper is already ready for eliminating Chhaupadi. Not only the federal government but also the state and local bodies are working to end the Chhaupadi practice. We are hopeful that the evil tradition will be uprooted. It is not possible to eliminate all the odds of the society at a single time. It takes time but we are committed towards it.
Issues related to Chhaupadi, street children and the rescue of pregnant women are getting important. Women in the Terai area facing violence in the name of dowry, and women are facing violence in the name of witchcraft.
Have you any plan to address these malpractices?
Federal government drafted bills and made a strong foundation for that. A harmonised drafting in state and local government will accelerate the spirit of social reform. Local and state governments are free to identify local problems and solve the issues in their jurisdictional periphery.
Till now, no structural set up has been maintained. The employee’s adjustment has not been settled, technical and vocational issues need to be address. The ministry is coordinating with its concerned bodies. Another reality is that the available employees in the Ministry focuses on individual development rather than fulfilling official responsibility. Special mechanism requires to tackle them and maintain their growth too. In my Ministry, I have directed staffs to maintain their dairies of their daily works. They are asked to share their dairies to the Secretary of the Ministry on daily basis.
Earlier, there was no habit of maintaining the work progress report, but now I have
asked them to maintain it on time, so that they do not have to rush unnecessarily at the last hour.
If anyone is found not working properly and hiding files, he or she will face action. During my 100 days’ time period, the Ministry has drafted a bill on elderly citizens.
The Ministry has been rescuing pregnant women from some of the remote districts. What are the means of sustainable management?
Some changes are needed for its sustainable solution. People need technical and vocational training so that they will learn to provide maternity services locally. We have the policy to ensure health rights at the local level. I accept some of the existing laws have not been implemented whereas some new ones will be needed to tackle all these problems.
It is heard that there has been discrimination in the President’s Women Empowerment Programme for rescuing pregnant women?
How do you address such biases?
I don’t accept the biasness happened on rescue task because there is a public notice published in Citizens Chatter. Not only this but also local birthing centres refer the woment with critical condition to contact to the local government and utilise the facility provided by the government. If any cases of discrimination is found, please let us know, so that we could make an action immediately.
It is true that the President’s Women Empowerment Programme has gone off track?
We have realised that the standard of the programme has not been maintained so far. As the president leads the empowerment programme, it has not been maintained as it should be. Federal government allocated Rs. 5 billion from its annual bucket on ensuring education, but sadly we have just drafted work paper after half yearly review. It is reeling under poor capital expenditure and low performanc. Similarly, Rs. 80 million has been allocated on developing entrepreneurship among the women in the country. It is also not been spent yet. We have published a notice of programme extension on 55 districts of the country.
These are some evidences of shortcomings of President Women’s Empowerment Programme. I believe that game changer projects require effective implementation. Women in our country are empowered enough to speak but not to survive yet. The government is preparing of national women’s entrepreneurship conference in the near future. I have realized that some of the women are empowered already but majority left behind. The conference is believe to fill the gap between forwarded and back warded women entrepreneurs in the country. It also eliminate the discrimination between them.
What other programmes does the Ministry have for eliminating social, gender, and other discriminations?
There are cases of girl trafficking, alleging the women as witch and harassing them, dowry and killing the fetus. The Sudur Paschim and Karnali states suffer from Chhaupadi system whereas the State 2 from dowry and acid attacks, and the State 3 from girl trafficking. Definitely, the ministry has the responsibility to address all these problems simultaneously.
The government is committed to providing shelter for all those who are in need so that none of the human being will be left in the street. We have to tackle all the problems that remain in the society as unresolved since a long time.
We have to ensure people about presence of the government. Issues of children and senior citizens need to be dealt. I slightly disagree in accepting infrastructure development as the only index of prosperity because the society needs to be equally reformed in its culture, costume and upbringing of its people. I have a plan to make a national pride project on eliminating several social discriminations.
You spoke of legal reform and highlighted new draft, do you think existing laws are totally useless? Or they are not implemented?
It is not that existing laws are not enough to address the problems and give them solutions. But the matter is that, the governing system in the country has been changed. But those laws, which do not suit for the federal system, will be amended. The laws between federal government and local government are contradicted. We are amending the old one and drafting some new for the better delivery.
Why have the posts of office bearers in the Commission for Women remained vacant for long time?
It’s a constitutional body and requires to go through a special way while fulfilling its posts. Not the Ministry but the government has to take initiative in this. We have urged the government to fulfill the body of the commission as soon as possible. Before we take part in the Commission on the Status of the Women (CSW) Conference 2020, we need to fill up the vacant posts in the commission.
We have heard about holding a dignified menstrual conference, why is it essential?
Some of the states like Sudur Paschim and Karnali are labeled to be the states of Chhau. Empowered community harassed them by the tag which is why a platform is needed for to end the ill practice.
Not only this, we also have to convince the international community for the same. Because the international community knows us as a country
of Chhaugoths, we
need to work to remove the tag from the international community.
Have you felt uneasy for being appointed as a Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizen?
Yes I did initially. But gradually I realised that the ministry is not only for women, children and elderly people. But the ministry is for all the social betterment instead of focusing on only a few issues.
Task of social reform is the ministry’s primary concern. When I accepted the fact I was encouraged working with this ministry and the issues. And I want to spend my time in this ministry for at least one year and want to prove my commitments working towards the social issues.
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