Sunday, June 26, 2011

Social Status of Nepalese Women

@United Nations
  Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, including distinction based on sex (Seo, 2011; Nepal law commission, 2007). However, violence against women is a widespread phenomenon in Nepal. The three dimensional of gender injustices are economic, cultural and political, as Fraser mentioned in new left review (2009). Nepalese women particularly in rural areas are “disempowered”[1]resulting from patriarchy,[2]social and cultural prejudices and  civil and political unjust that legitimize and maintain unequal power relation between men and women (UNESCAP, 2000 p.14; Ghandhi, 2004, p95) in all private and public sphere.

Some of the common forms of violence Nepalese women are subjected to are “domestic violence,” “sexual exploitation,” “incest,” “rape,” “sexual harassment,” “sex discrimination,” “medical abuse,” “marital rape,” “pornography and abuse of women in media,” “custodial abuse,” “female foeticide,” “dowry-related violence and murder,” and “physical and mental torture,” “culture-bound practices” and “ritual abuse” (Tuladhar cited on UNESCAP report 2000). These have been exacerbated by several others factors such as poverty,[3] domestic violence, trafficking, financial dependence, lack of education, and limited training opportunities, which have challenged to exercise women’s right in the country (UNESCAP, 2000; Martin, 2008).

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Nepalese society creates a distinct role for men and women since its formation. Men are the “breadwinner,” “protector”, “provider” and held a superior position within the “domestic mode of production” and control the distribution of resources and goods in the family (Subedi, 2010; p3-7).  Although women in rural villages care their family members as they rise, still most of the parents preferred sons over daughter (Martin, 2008). As a result, many women from rural and urban areas are obligated to give a birth to a child until they have a son. Their bodies are treated as if like a child bearing machines. It is widely believed in a traditional family that the birth of a son paves their way to heaven (chhora paye swarga jaane)[4] therein fosters the derogatory attitude towards women (Malla, 2000). Even now, most of the parents prefer to wait just to give birth to a son (dhilo paye, chhora paye) in the name of preserving the customs.

On the other hand, girls are discriminated from the day they are born. From the early ages, boys are prepared towards 'outside world' to involve in “productive”[5] and decision making function, whereas girls are detained to the 'inside world' to learn the household chores to be a perfect “home maker,” “dutiful and loyal wife,” “loving mother,” “subservient” and “service provider.” In the same way, daughters are considered to be given away as a “gift” in marriages in the name of traditional practices called kanya daan.

 Even if women are employed, they are assigned for lower clerical jobs. Their income are used as supplement, similar to what feminist Fraser define “Androcentrism” during the critique of the old paradigm of movements (2009, p101). Generally, it is acknowledged that son brightens the whole world, whereas a daughter can only brighten the kitchen (Chhora paye sansar ujayalo, chhori bhaye banchha Ujyal). The society gives the full rights only to sons to carry the family name, perform death rituals and rite (Subedi, 2010; p.16), regardless of some legal provisions to eliminate gender based inequalities. This is to mention just a few points from Subedi’s work: From the very early age, female are treated as if they are not as good as men. Young girls are fed after their brother, young wives are look after husbands, elderly women look after their sons and so the cycle continues (2010, p7). 

 On the other hand, wife is also taken as the dust of the husband foot (Srimati bhaneko paitalako dhulo ho) so, a husband owns a full “power” to do “whatever” and “whenever” he wants. This belief has also enhanced the cases of domestic violence in Nepal. There were 1,100 cases of domestic violence that have been documented at the central cell for women and children police headquarters only in 2007. The most highlighted case was Husun Idrisi from Nepalgunj, one of the western cities of Nepal. Her husband poured kerosene in her body, set a fire nearby and locked inside a toilet for not bringing enough marriage dowry, but she was survived with the help of neighbors when they heard her shouts for help (Dhakal, 2008). Similarly, four women were killed just in a week space from “zones free of violence against women”[6] in dowry related disputes by their family members in the last week of January 2008 (Dhakal, p548). How can we expect a respectable position of women in public spaces, if they are ignored and sometimes killed in their own families, by their own relatives?

There are also hundreds of undisclosed cases of domestic violence against women. Women social lawyers and workers argues that almost 70% of rape incidents are by close relatives and go unreported but the crime research branch denied the fact and only admit that 40% of rape incidents are concealed (UNESCAP, 2000). Yet, there is no any instances record of sexual cruelty in the form of sexual intercourse between a husband and a wife’s will, although there exist many.

@The Asia Foundation
 The society accepts the fighting between wife and husband as a fire in the hay which flares up quickly and dies as immediately (logne swasniko jhagada paralko ago). Thus, interference in others family matter is “not accepted” and “not advisable,” even if it is the case of intensive and serious violence and abuse (Dhakal, 2008). Additionally, women trafficking for the purpose of prostitutions are now widely increasing in an alarming rate[7] in Nepal but there is no factual information on how many women are trafficked every day, except than the Trafficking in Persons and Transportation Control Act (TPTA) 2007.
There are number of advocacy campaigns for the public denouncement of violence against women y some NGOs (UNESCAP, 2000, p.22), but still violence against women is rampant. There is a need to understand that prejudices come from traditional norms and values and are created and fostered by human beings long time back which can be changed to benefits both sexes and make our society a better place. Women should be recognized as a partner rather than a subordinator to men. Moreover, gender should be taken into consideration as a necessity in development work to create a gender equal society.


United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). “Violence against Women in South Asia.” 2000. p11-80. ISBN:9211200245. United Nations publication. New York. Print.

Malla, Sapana Pradhan. “Property Rights of Nepalese Women.” FES Nepal. March 2000.Web. 20 June 2011.

Subedi, Prativa. Nepali Women at the Crossroads: Gender and Development. Tripureshwar, Kathmandu, Nepal: Sahayogi Press, 2010. p1-138. Print.

Martin, Jodie. "Women and Patriarchy in Nepal: The Legal System and Patriarchal Structure Continues to Discriminate." Activism by Suite 101. 21 Aug.2008. Web.17 May 2011.    

Seo, Youngpyo. "Seminar 5: Feminist Critique of the Old Paradigm of Movements." Social Problems and Social Movements politics. MAINS. SKHU Classroom. 2011. Lecture.

Ghandhi, P.R. Blackstone’s International Human Rights Documents. 4th edition. 8 Sept. 2004. p95-104, p472-505. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0199273065. Print.

Nepal law commission. “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of  Discrimination against Women.” 15 June 2007.Print.

Fraser, Nancy. “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of history,” New Left review 56.    Mar-Apr 2009. p97-117. Print.

         [1] The term “Disempowered has been borrowed from the author of Nepali Women at the Crossroads which means that women have no control over resources or information, decision making role and have to work under someone else’s direction (p16).
                  [2]Patriarchy is a constant societal structure in Nepal that refers to the rule of men’s where men dominate oppressed and exploit women to extract benefits. It also encourage men to be sexually assertive to perceive women in sexual term (Subedi, 2010).
                  [3] UNESCAP reported that about 31% of the total population lives below the national poverty line, whereas, about 25% of the total population live below $1 per day in 2004 (2007, P.106). After signing MDGs, the government of Nepal has committed to reduce the national poverty line to 21% and population living $1 to 17% by 2015.
                  [4] I have written the patriarchy Nepali beliefs which reflects the derogatory attitude towards Nepalese female in the bracket and italicized. All of these beliefs that are used in my paper are taken from Malla.
                  [5]Productive work refers to the works that generate money in the form of salary, wages or income.
                  [6] A year back, the local civil society organizations have declared “zones free of violence against women” in Rupandehi and Nawalparasi, two of 75 districts in Nepal, but four women were killed for not bringing enough dowries. This is one of hundreds growing culture of impunity throughout the country.
                  [7] It is estimated that about 300,000 women are trafficked and forced to be prostitute only in Indian brothels. Other destinations of women trafficking are Middle East and some European countries.