Women's rights, their participation in decision-making levels, empowerment and their economic conditions have been a growing concern in Nepal for a few decades with the increasing political awareness among them. Women's participation in the development activities is vital for the overall development of the society.
However, in developing countries like Nepal, women's condition is still not satisfactory. Many of them are still in an ‘overworked and underpaid’ condition. Women's labour accounts for two thirds of the world's working hours. However, they receive only 10 per cent of global income and own less than one per cent of property. In any society, roles and responsibilities of women and men differ. Women usually have less access to resources and benefits for various socio-economic constraints and their poor role in decision-making processes.
As most women do not have land ownership certificates and hardly get involved in productive activities, they heavily depend on their families, especially father and husband, to meet their basic needs. In Nepal, where the traditional beliefs that women are not equal to men still prevail, only handful women have reached the decision-making level. Even in important household decisions, they have little role.
Although the constitution has guaranteed to have at least 33 per cent women in any elected body, they are limited to a few positions at local levels. In fact, most women in Nepal are still confined to household chores. As per the population census 2021, the total population of Nepal is 2, 91, 64, 578. Among them, male population stands at 1, 42, 53,551 (48.98 per cent) while female population is 1, 49, 11,027 (51.02 per cent). The total literacy rate is 76.3 per cent. The male literacy rate stands at 83.6 per cent while female literacy rate is 63.4 per cent. Thus, women lag behind men even in terms of education.
As women constitute more than half of the total population in the country, their equal participation in any development activities is not only desirable but also essential to speed up the process of development. In a male-dominated society like ours, females still face various discriminations. However, in recent years, people have started realising the value of women's participation in the economic, political as well as social development. Obviously, the socio-economic standards of women greatly influence any nation’s development. The mutual understanding between male and female can help improve the nation’s socio-economic situation.
Discrimination between males and females start right from the family. Opportunities and benefits available in the society are dominated and monopolised by males. Women's participation in socio-cultural and political activities depends upon the attitudes of their families. However, the need for uplifting women’s status has been realised. Various incentive programmes have been launched along with the call for the greater awareness to overcome prevailing stigma-attached social plight of women.
Some of the activities included surveying of households, formation of groups and their mobilisation, preparing village profiles and involving women in education, health, social empowerment and income generating activities both at the district and community levels. Efforts have also been made to develop women's social respect, self-confidence and instill the feeling of equality among them.
Besides, women have a low decision-making power even within their family and personal life. It is the men who determine the number of children to bear, their education and as well as other issues related to personal life. When men play a dominant decision-making role even within the family, one can imagine their status in political level.
Unless, women are brought to the mainstream of development process, it is impossible to develop a society as well as the nation. Only educated women have a greater participation in decision-making even in regard to purchasing food, clothing, and general medical treatment.
The women engaged in jobs are more confident about their status in the household than others. Their participation level is higher in serious matters like investment and selling property than non-working women. Economic status helps women to have a stronger position in household affairs. Educated and working women enjoy more power households.
Misconceptions are a major drawback in Nepali society. Women are always considered as an inferior sex. Girls are found to have taught to remain as a silent spectator from their childhood, and gender-based disparity lesson rings in their ears since their childhood which leads them to lose their confidence and self-esteem and eventually they are compelled to think themselves as weak and unfortunate sections of the society. Women thus suffer from discriminatory practices in their households and society. When they are educated, they can become economically independent. Then, they can make their own position strong in terms of decision-making in their household affairs and the society as a whole.
(The author is a former civil servant.)