Women Empowerment Has Long Way To Go

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Nepal seems to have given much attention towards overall empowerment of women. Many local governments across the nation are found coming up with a policy of encouraging girls to go to schools and colleges. This initiative is sure to contribute towards women’s social and economic empowerment. Several sterner laws are also in place to tackle gender-based violence. With the adoption of a national policy on gender parity, women are expected to be empowered further. It is equally notable that efforts have been made even at the provincial and local levels to ensure gender equality and social inclusion. This step helps in strengthening institutional capacity to promote the principles of gender equality and social inclusion at provincial and local levels. However, the overall conditions of women have not yet improved substantially.

But Nepali girls and women are still grappling with numerous difficulties and going through different forms of violence. The country records many incidences of murder, rape and other kinds of sexual violence every year. On the eve of the 114th International Women’s Day (IWD), a woman was beaten to death by her husband in the Kathmandu Valley. According to the police, the murder took place at Jhaukhel of Changunarayan Municipality-3 in Bhaktapur district on March 7. A drunken Santosh Bhujel, 25, who hails from Melamchi Municipality of Sindhupalchowk district, killed his wife Pabitra Rai, 21. This particular case indicates that women have continued to be the victims of murder and other forms of misogynistic behaviours. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many girls and women in the country lose their lives to men every year. 

Social structure

The existing patriarchal social structure is considered as one of the main factors behind such heinous crimes. As this situation is quite excruciating for the country as a whole, it demands that the authorities concerned intensify their efforts to deal with the scourge of violence against women in a more effective manner. 

Like many nations worldwide, Nepal also celebrated IWD on March 8 with various programmes. With the theme of ‘Inspire Inclusion’, the event intended to inspire everyone to understand and value women's inclusion in order to create a better world for them. This important global activism marks women’s social, economic, cultural, and political attainments. The event also calls for ensuring gender equality. It also aims at educating people and raising awareness about women's equality. 

Since the beginning, women have played a crucial role in making various social and political revolutions a success. Yogmaya Neupane, who was an activist for women’s rights, had fought against the Rana regime. On July 14, 1941, Yogmaya, an elderly female religious ascetic, along with dozens of her followers, took Jal Samadhi in the Arun River to protest the Rana rule. Considered as the country’s first female revolutionary, Yogmaya made her significant contribution to social reforms. With the passage of time, numerous other women leaders were involved in the democratic movements. Some of the top female leaders involved in the movements against the Rana oligarchy and Panchayat rule included Sushila Koirala, Sahana Pradhan and Mangaladevi Singh.  Their contribution to the journey of women’s empowerment in the country is commendable. 

Nepal has witnessed a significant rise in women’s participation in politics. According to the present constitution, the political parties are required to field at least 33 per cent of their female candidates for federal parliament seats. This constitutional provision has been helpful for women to increase their participation. Even though the national charter is progressive when it comes to women’s involvement in political activities, many legal and structural issues hinder this. Numerous laws are still discriminatory towards women. 

Another problem is that fewer women were elected to the local government in the last election due to the electoral alliance of different political parties. The existing law envisages the nomination of at least one female candidate either chief or deputy chef at the local level. But the alliance nominated candidates for the chief and deputy chief from different political parties. So, female candidates were not nominated in many local levels. However, as per the legal provision, each of the political parties is required to nominate at least two female candidates for ward members (one from any caste or ethnicity and another Dalit). With this mandatory legal provision, women’s participation in local level politics has increased. 

In addition, the number of female civil servants has continued to increase. Because of this, a lot of women are working as high-ranking officials in various ministries and departments. Female civil servants and those working with security agencies are found more honest and dutiful than male ones. This is the reason why women personnel have not been charged with corruption. Many cooperatives and micro-finance companies led by men have suffered setback in recent times due to widespread irregularities. But the ones operated by women have not faced this problem, to that extent. 

Dowry deaths

Despite all this, the situation of women is not satisfactory. A number of girls and women belonging to the poor and underprivileged families and communities are vulnerable to trafficking. In the pretext of finding a lucrative job for them in foreign countries, human traffickers are often found sending such vulnerable lot to numerous countries, including India. They are forced to go through a risky situation. They are often forced into sex trade. 

Another cultural issue is that women are still tortured in the name of practicing witchcraft. This problem is more prevalent in the Terai region than other parts. Women also face dowry-related cruelties and deaths. However, the magnitude of this problem seems to have decreased remarkably over the years, thanks to increased public awareness and stringent laws.    Considering all these problems and obstacles facing Nepali women, all the three-tier governments must step up measures to resolve them. They also need to make every effort possible for empowering women and enabling them to lead a dignified life.

(The author is a former deputy executive editor of this daily.) 

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