VAW And Women’s Empowerment

Uttam Maharjan

 

Much water has flowed under the bridge since the Women’s Liberation started in New York in the 1909. In the context of Nepal too, a century has rolled by since Yogmaya Neupane fought for women’s rights during the Rana oligarchy. This is the 21st century and the movement for women’s rights is still going on. The condition of women has changed a lot over the last century. Still, women are yet to secure their full rights on a par with those of men.

Federal system
In Nepal, the system of governance has changed to the federal system with the abolition of the monarchy and the promulgation of the new constitution followed by the establishment of the federal parliament, provincial assemblies and local governments in accordance with the constitution of 2015. The federal constitution has ensured participation of women in the government apparatuses. As per the constitutional provision, at least 33 per cent women are required to be inducted into the government organs.
There are over 40 per cent women representatives in local governments. This is because at least two women, including one Dalit woman, need to be elected at a ward level. Likewise, a political party needs to field a woman for the post of either Mayor or Deputy Mayor for a metropolis, sub-metropolis, municipality or rural municipality. In the federal parliament, too, there should be at least 33 per cent women representatives. In case the required number of women candidates cannot make it to the parliament, the number needs to be increased through the proportional representation (PR) system. As per these criteria, the present three-tier governments have secured the participation of over 33 per cent women representatives.
One of the motives behind this provision is to enable women representatives to work for the uplift of downtrodden women, especially in rural areas. Women representatives can understand the problems of their own lot more deeply than men. The condition of women in urban areas is far better than those in the rural areas. Most of the rural areas in Nepal are still in a developmental backwater. On the one hand, such areas are economically backward, while on the other social malpractices, misconceptions and superstitions have been entrenched firmly in the society there due to the prevalence of ignorance and lack of education. Persistence of the Chhaupadi system, although banned by the law, and beating of women on the charge of practicing witchcraft are but two examples that are a scourge for women and a matter of shame for mankind.
The recent incident involving mercilessly thrashing a 20-year-old woman, Radha Chaudhri, by Ram Bahadur Chaudhari, a local shaman, and his associate in Kailali exposes the extent our rural society is mired in social malpractices. Further, releasing the culprit within hours of arrest under pressure from Ghodaghodi Municipality Mayor Mamata Prasad Chaudhary shows why such women are forced to suffer persecution. However, the initiative by none other than the newly appointed Prime Minister has resulted in the re-arrest of the shaman, along with his associates. Sub-inspector Dinesh Bista, who was involved in reconciling the case, has also been suspended. An investigation committee has also been formed to probe the involvement of the Mayor in reconciling the case involving the heinous crime. Had the Prime Minister not intervened in time, the case would have been suppressed and the shaman and his associates would have been walking around the town scot-free.
People’s representatives have a proactive role in improving the lot of women. As lack of education and ignorance are the greatest setback in women’s development, a nation-wide campaign needs to be conducted in every nook and cranny of Nepal. Such a campaign will make a change in the thinking pattern of not only women but also of men and help put an end to social malpractices like the Chhaupadi system and woman-baiting on the charge of practising witchcraft. Besides, such a campaign should also focus on getting women’s rights across to women and men alike. It may be noted that women cannot exercise their rights without the support of men.
One of the reasons for women remaining backward vis-à-vis their male counterparts is the patriarchal society. Such a society has been in existence from time immemorial and most men have taken advantage of this. However, in urban areas women have crossed the patriarchal barriers to a great extent but the impact of such barriers on women is acutely felt in rural areas.
Violence against women (VAW) is one of the burning problems in the Nepali society. VAW is concerned with not only physical infliction but also mental or emotional torture. As VAW mostly happens inside homes, the victims need to come out and seek legal regress. Most women fear complaining to the police against their husbands or other members of the family. But such a tendency only encourages the perpetrators. Women are also subjected to VAW at the hands of other men. The Nepal Police Force has provision for a women’s cell to address the complaints of suffering women.
Further, psychological counselling is needed for women who are emotionally disturbed or distraught due to VAW so as to rehabilitate them. Such counselling centres need to be set up in various parts of Nepal. People’s representatives, including women representatives, should take upon themselves the sacrosanct task of ending VAW at any cost. For this, a strong legal mechanism should be in place. The government should take the initiative in making women self-reliant through various programmes. It may not be out of place to note that the dependence of women on their male partners is one of the reasons for increasing VAW. Further, the culture of impunity on the coattails of political and police protection needs to be extirpated once and for all.

Measures
The new federal system, which has won accolades from across the world, should set an example by recognising women, who constitute 52 per cent of the total population of Nepal, as equal partners in development. It should be borne in mind that without women’s participation in development, the desired level of development cannot be notched up. Hence, it is incumbent upon the government and people’s representatives to take effective measures to improve the lot of women, especially those living in rural and backwoods areas.

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