Equality is Emerging for Women in Nepal.
Written by Garrett Dowell
Like many countries around the world, Nepal has a checkered past when it comes to equality and women’s rights. Unfortunately, patriarchal hierarchy remains deeply rooted in the daily life of rural Nepal. Gender plays a significant role in Nepalese society; women are, generally, thought of as lesser than their male counterparts, particularly in rural villages. The literacy rates, while they have been improving greatly across the country, are 25% lower for women than they are for men (71.1% for males as opposed to 46.7% for females, according to UNICEF). This is due to women having less access to education than men. They are expected to conform to traditional gender roles and, thus, are thought not to need an education if they are to take care of the home. Most tragically, Nepal has a disproportionately large number of women forced into sex trafficking. Most of these women are under the age of 18.
Fortunately, the picture of gender equality in Nepal is not at all bleak — many legislative strides have been made in the past several decades. In 1963, the Nepalese parliament abolished the Civil Code, a misogynistic set of laws that forbade women from owning property and participating in politics. Eradicating this code further allowed women to pursue divorce from their husbands and inherit property from deceased relatives. This sets the groundwork for the first Nepalese wave of feminism that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century into today. In 1996, a war broke out between a communist, Maoist insurgency and the monarchal Nepalese government, called the People’s War. During this revolution, women saw their democratic rights as the same as their civil rights. Many chose to fight on the side of the Maoists, who promised to eradicate the restrictive patriarchal caste system. As many as 40% of women were working either on grassroots political campaigns or fighting as guerrilla warriors. After the war, a constitutional amendment was passed in 2006 that sought to expand women’s rights. This amendment granted women a guaranteed 33% of the seats in parliament. Additionally, a woman was required to be on the ballot for major and vice-major elections at the village, municipal, and district level. These governmental changes paved the way for Nepalese women being elected to the highest echelons of government. The Supreme Court Chief Justice, Speaker of the House, and the President of Nepal are currently all women.
The progress is fantastic, but there is still significant headway to be made. For example, while the seats in parliament are reserved for women, the quota is not currently being enforced. Women are “allowed” by their fathers or husbands to be in the workplace, rather than there of their own free will. Of the roughly 18% of women that are in the official workforce, they earn just 60% compared to the income of their male counterparts. The 2006 constitutional amendment also restricted the citizenry of those born to Nepalese women outside the country but did not do so for those born into the family of male citizens. Nepalese feminists and other organizing groups are currently working to change these sexist practices.
Education is without a doubt the best way to close the societal gender gap in Nepal. This school of thought is becoming mainstream in Nepalese culture, particularly in urban areas. This is the main way women can acquire skills that can help them enter the workforce and lift themselves out of poverty. Their fiscal gain helps the country’s economy at large. Furthermore, education protects women from the ingrained dangers of the patriarchal society. Women who are made aware of societal biases against them and who are aware that they are, in fact, equal to men are less likely to be involved in the child slave trade or involved in an arranged marriage. In lifting them out of poverty, education gives women the privilege to participate in politics, pushing this progress toward the goal of true equality. Finally, daughters of educated women are more likely to become educated themselves. This allows for all of the positive externalities of schooling to be passed to the next generation.
Namlo International feels that in order to sustainably and responsibly help the Nepalese people out of cyclical poverty, the people must be provided with a quality education. We currently sponsor 15 Nepalese students, 9 of whom are young women, by paying for their tuition and school supplies.
Pratima Tamang is one of these students. She has just recently enrolled in 9th grade, but she already has career goals. She wants to be a social worker one day and help the people of her country. Before she was sponsored by Namlo’s donors, her family simply couldn’t afford to send her to school. The supplies, uniform, and school fees were too much. Now, her and her family are happy she has the opportunity to learn and nurture her strengths. Pratima has already proven to be more than worthy of the small investment.
If you would like to sponsor a student’s education, click here and browse the profiles of the inspiring young students who want to have an impact on their community and country.