Gender Equality In Nepal
With a theme ‘Be Bold For Change’ to forge a better working world- more inclusive and gender equal world, International Women’s Day was observed across the world this week. Marking the day as an opportunity to reflect on progress made so far and calling for change and celebrating acts of courage and determination demonstrated by ordinary women, this historic day witnessed an overwhelming participation of ordinary people particularly women, including government and non-government authorities in various countries despite some protests from different groups demanding an end to this practice.
The historical root of observing this day can be traced back to the early 20th century in the U.S. where woman’s day celebration arose against the backdrop of garment workers in New York protesting against working condition for women demanding equal wage, proper working condition and rest as enjoyed by men. Since 1911, this day began to be celebrated internationally to honour the movement for women’s rights and ensure the universal suffrage of women.
In the entire journey of its celebration of more than a century, the issues of women have become more comprehensive and liberating aimed at transformation of women putting the agendas of gender equity and social justice at the centre. While in the early phase, women’s movements were focused on equality often expressed in abstract form, in the recent years such movements have been directed towards gender mainstreaming by expanding political and economic space for women.
Furthermore, notions of counting the household chores of women in the national GDP, creating gender friendly infrastructures and administration have also gained greater currency. Policy reform initiatives have been highly realised by the women rights activists and champions of gender equality of late with the need for inducing systemic change.
Nepal has also been observing this day with much enthusiasm and hope advancing the agenda for a just and equal society. In fact, Nepal has achieved some unprecedented results in gender equality after the transition of the country from monarchy to republic embracing the principles of proportional participation and inclusion for which it is being hailed in the international community. Particularly, the representation of women in state and administration has come out to be exemplary in the South Asian region. Currently, 29 per cent of the lawmakers in Nepal’s parliament are women and 35.64 per cent of women are into the civil service. After the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, three key state agencies- the President’s Office, Parliament and Judiciary are running under the leadership of women which is a strong evidence of Nepalese society becoming more concerned with women issues.
On the legal front also some remarkable improvements can be seen. For instance, the 11th amendment of the ‘Civil Code’ (Muluki Ain) states that daughters also will have equal access to their parents’ property. Even in case of a divorce, women will be entitled to the property proportionately as men.
Notwithstanding the above mentioned historic successes, it hasn’t reflected in the lives of the ordinary women living in Nepal. Even today, majority of women are living as a ‘second grade citizen’ becoming a victim of patriarchal domination. With the literacy rate of women standing at 65.9 per cent according to Central Bureau of Statistics 2011, women are still confined into the domestic chores. Those who have stepped out in the job market have also been facing discrimination in various ways. Whether we refer to the issue of equal pay for equal work or the amount of respect they command from their male colleagues, these things have become problematic for women.
One of the prominent reasons for this situation can be attributed to the inability of the influential women at the level of politics and economy to reach the villages and distant places in Nepal and raise awareness among women about the issues of gender equality and equity. In this regard, the role of non-state actors: NGO/INGOs and civil society can also be reviewed. Though they have empowered grass-roots level women and enhanced their dignity of life, they haven’t been sustainable and truly capacitating. In fact, the mere ritual of serving the targeted groups (women as discussed in this piece) to avail the donor funding is the common practice among the mushrooming NGO/INGOs.
Uplifting the status of women would require equipping them with necessary skills, attitude and values to grow as a professional. Although reservation could be a viable option in the short run, this will have negative repercussions for the state and society in the long run. Hence, focus should be on empowering women so that they can compete with men on equal footing.
Counting the household contribution of women in the national GDP would elevate their economic status. Creating an enabling environment for women to realise and develop their full potentials is the shared responsibility of every male members of the society. Ushering policy changes to promote gender friendly policies is a must for systemic change in the field of women equality and empowerment.