Friday, 3 December, 2021

Make Census 2021 Inclusive

Make Census 2021 Inclusive

Namrata Sharma

Gods in every religion are followed blindly, but for everything else you need evidence and data to validate your stories,” said Nebin Lal Shrestha, Director General (DG) of Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) Nepal, to a group of journalists during a media sensitisation workshop on population and housing census of Nepal organised by Media Action Nepal (MAN). CBS has been conducting decennial population census since 1911 and its twelfth series will be conducted from November 11-25, 2021. These 15 days will be crucial to map what has happened in Nepal during the last decade and how it can impact the policy making for future. The agriculture census will be done after six months of the population and housing census.

Sensitisation of journalist throughout the process of the census on how to dig out information from the data released by CBS is very important. It can be crucial in directing the policy makers to designing programmes and projects that will benefit the entire population of the country mainly women, people with disabilities, children, elderly and the marginalised communities. “Social media is like tundikhel, the open ground, where people go to praise, scold and raise slogans. However, journalists can use it to create awareness of national issues like the ongoing census so people participate and share their data,” said MAN chairman Laxman Dutt Pant. He emphasised that mass media should now shift their focus from page three items to events like Census 2021, which is essential for the country’s progress.

Factual data
Collection of factual and correct data during a census is challenging as people are reluctant in giving out personal information. There is a general fear that personal information could be leaked out and used adversely against individuals. This is why the people hesitate to share information related to issues like domestic violence, financial details, work burden and actual household leadership. Nepal’s system has several loopholes from where private information is leaked and individuals get attacked either physically or mentally.

The CBS is mobilising the unemployed youth from all seven provinces in enumerating data for Nepal Census 2021. At a time when the pandemic has made many redundant, this move of Nepal government can be seen as a positive approach. Hopefully, the youth are skilled enough to get factual information from rural and urban areas of Nepal. The preparation of Nepal census 2021 actually commenced in 2018. Preparation of the questionnaire and training of 40,000 enumerators and 8016 supervisors have been conducted.

Most Western and developed nations have a maximum of 10 questions during the census. The questionnaire of Nepal Census this year includes 80 questions in total with 25 questions to list households and family members. Then there are 55 remaining questions which are designed to capture various indicators related to social, economic, geographical and materialistic infrastructure among others. The questions are disaggregated to include the religious, cast, class, ethnicity and gender, among other aspects. For the first time during this census community questionnaire will also be administered at ward level to document data that might be missed out during household surveys.

CBS claims it has established a system of coordination from the centre to the Ward level. Also for the first time in Nepal, this census is designed to capture data related to disease like haemophilia and is interrogating more on women’s status as a household head and maternal mortality rate. However, specific population and household data related to the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic is not addressed. There may be a need to do a separate research on this, however, it could be a missed opportunity to capture the impact of the pandemic on the nutrition and education of women, girls, people with disabilities and the marginalised communities.

Nepal’s constitution and its provisions related to census have specified that during its national census issues related to this population be addressed more. A research done by Room to Read during the pandemic estimates that more than 50 per cent of girls from low income families in Nepal could be out of school by the time the pandemic ends. The Census 2021 could have been a way to check data like this and used to map further projects and programmes suitable for the disadvantaged population.

The last census showed that the population of women was more than 52 per cent. During the second half of the decade there have been several reports showing that in some villages ratio of girls as compared to boys has dipped down. “There is a huge gender gap when it comes to attendance at schools. Moreover, the selective abortion of female foetuses has contributed to a widening imbalance in the sex ratio,” writes Laxmi Bhandari in an article ‘Fewer Girls in School’ published by Centre for Investigative Journalism- Nepal. This indicates that the upcoming census could give alarming facts related to the percentage of male and female of Nepal.

Disaggregated data
Sex disaggregated data gives important information for policy making and distribution of resources. However, it is yet to be seen how far issues related to sex selective abortion, female infanticide and unequal treatment of girls, women and people under the other category set by Nepal government, are reflected from this census.

The role of mass media is to create awareness among the Nepali citizens that all need to participate during the census. Expose is required if certain citizens’ data is not captured and why not. Also after the census report is out, it is important for mass media to compare, triangulate and analyse the data to see how it can be best used for the country’s progress by addressing the needs of the most marginalised communities, girls and women.

(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights activist. Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)