Nepal is a member of the United Nations and a signatory to various international conventions and instruments, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ILO Convention No. 169, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and 20 other international instruments. All of them are aimed at protecting and promoting human rights of women and marginalised population. The Government of Nepal (GoN) has developed many national laws and policies in compliance with these international instruments. Nepal’s 15th national plan has also identified gender and social inclusion as the main approach to achieving inclusive and sustainable development and for reducing poverty. The government and other development stakeholders have been continuously engaged in addressing issues of women, children, senior citizens, people with disability and LGBTIQ. Some progress has been observed with their active participation and empowerment in various sectors. However, these initiatives need coordinated and collaborated actions to achieve more tangible results towards improving their socio-economic and human rights situation. The government is committed to promoting women’s rights and equality by ratifying the CEDAW, Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), SDGs, UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 states that, “No physical, mental or any forms of violence shall be inflicted to any women, and such an act shall be punishable by law”. Nepal is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD); which was ratified in 2010, declaring the GoN's commitment to protecting the rights of disabled persons. Adding to that, the Senior Citizens Act was introduced in 2006 for promoting the protection and social security of elderly people. Despite all these policies, programmes and action plans supporting the advancement of gender equality and social inclusion, various discriminatory social norms and practices still prevail across the country. For instance, when it comes to life choices of a woman, marriage plays a decisive role as it has also been related with the socio-economic status. Traditional harmful practices which have negatively impacted females such as Badipratha (Caste-based sex work), Chaupadipratha (Menstrual seclusion), Kamlari (bonded labour of daughters) and Deukipratha (selling daughters to temples regarding them as goddesses), child marriage, etc. are still in practice in various parts of Nepal. Violence has been raised against women through various means - whether it be accusation to witchcraft, preferring a boy child, stigmatisation of widows, seclusion of women, family violence and polygamy. A report published by the Amnesty International in 2014 states that about 600,000 women suffer from reproductive health problems because of early marriage, early pregnancy, overwork and negligence. Nepal has the highest maternal mortality in the world, i.e., 170 per 100,000 births. The occurrence of violence against women and girls, mostly to elder and disabled women, are also unacceptably high. The incidences are high among uneducated societies and poorer households. The most vulnerable group for gender-based violence and discrimination are the elderly widows. Gender equality has been limited to laws and policies only. In reality, still many women are continually facing gender-based violence which are not recorded and no legal actions are taken against them. As Nepal has experienced high prevalence of incidences related to gender-based violence, various efforts have been made by the government to deal with them. Nepal’s Domestic Violence Act and National Strategy and Plan of Action on violence against women are some key examples of the government's efforts towards addressing gender-based violence. According to the National Demographic Health Survey (2011), among women aged 15-49, 22 per cent had experienced physical violence and 12 per cent had undergone sexual violence at least once since the age 15. Among married women, one-third had experienced emotional, physical and sexual violence from their spouse and 17 per cent had experienced it within the 12 months immediately prior to the survey. The most commonly reported perpetrator of physical violence among married women is the husband (84 per cent). Factors such as women’s age, caste/ethnicity, wealth status, physical ability status, geographical zone, region and number of living children can all impact on the degree to which they may experience spousal violence. Generally, Muslim women experience the highest level of violence (55 per cent); rural women are more likely to have experienced physical violence (22 per cent) than urban women (19 per cent). A recent national survey reported that 42.9 per cent of women aged 15-49 years stated that their husband is justified to hit or beat his wife in at least one of the five situations; when a wife neglects the children (32 per cent), if she demonstrates her autonomy, exemplified by going out without telling her husband (25 per cent), arguing with him (17 per cent), refusing to have sex with her husband (3 per cent), or if she burns the food (5 per cent). A another survey found that one in five women reported being the victim of physical violence and more than one in ten reported experiencing sexual violence. As per the study, the key challenges to combat violence were due to gaps in legislation and weak implementation of laws. The major barrier in seeking justice for rape survivors has been Nepal’s 35-day statutory limitation for filing reports of rape, which was however increased up to six months by the government in 2016. Nepal currently lacks anti-discrimination laws or hate crime-legislation to protect people from violence, harassment, or discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result of numerous social and structural constraints, lesbians often find themselves in a position that one report, which included research on sexual violence against lesbians, characterised as “a three-layered oppression: for being women, for being a minority, and for being subordinates.” Poverty and lack of employment opportunities and necessary skills for employment in rural settings are fueling unsafe internal and external migration and trafficking. With large scale urbanisation, the intensity of female workers migrating from villages to cities shows an upward trend. Women going through irregular or illegal channels of migration are mostly from marginalised and disadvantaged communities and indigenous groups. Lack of adequate information, skills training and institutional support has added to the vulnerability of women migrant workers, increasing their risk of being trafficked.
(Rijal is a gender and social equality specialist.)