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The Silenced…Go Silently

Reading Time: 11 minutes
Annapurna from Sarangkot 6273

The public service announcement reads: “Women’s Rights, Human Rights.” / Do not sell you daughter to dowry, lest you regret all your life / Our campaign against dowry to create a civilized society / Against dowry-related crime and child marriage, our campaign.

The single biggest killer of Nepalese girls and women is suicide!

A host of factors contribute to this, of course. But, pretty much all of them, to be sure, is directly or indirectly related to the way our highly patriarchal and stratified society, created by men, for men, mistreats and exploits girls and women, both inside and outside the home and by the State.

The practice in most homes is to value sons considerably more than daughters, mostly because of culture and tradition and partly because of Hindu religion, which is followed by 81% of population.

As the carrier of the family name (bangshaj), sons in Hindu families are seen as the source of honor and pride for the family, while daughters, on the other hand, are seen as a potential source of dishonor to the family name and a potential defiler.

Such as when a girl or woman disobeys her male guardians or relatives, or when she elopes or, worse, is raped. A girl or woman victim of rape is viewed as having dishonored the family! It is not unusual for such victims to kills themselves unable to bear the burden, trauma or lack of social and emotional support to help turn her life around.

Even the most natural of cycles of menstruation, for instance, is used against her — she is considered to be “defiled/polluting and untouchable” during the period (excuse the pun). While in conservative Hindu families elsewhere she might not be allowed to handle anything or come in contact with people, in parts of Western Nepal, where the practice of Chaupadi is really entrenched, she is banished to an insecure shed, exposing her to all kinds of dangers. Some, unfortunately but not surprisingly, end up dying!

(Incidentally, to Tibeto-Nepalese, like myself and members of my community, no such thing as a family name exists; the “family names” we carry are Nepali names, adopted to avoid being discriminated. Additionally, we do NOT view or treat a menstruating girl or woman any differently from others.)

Sons are seen as future care-givers of the family while daughters are seen as someone else’s property.

A son brings a daughter-in-law home to look after also them, the parents! In other words, a daughter goes to live with — and to take care of — someone else’s family. As such, the virtues of a daughter are mostly and intimately tied to being a wife and a homemaker. They are expected to be demure, soft-spoken, obedient, caring, hard-working, devoted (to her families to begin with and her husband, children and in-laws after marriage) and play second fiddle to her husband etc. They are not expected to have dreams and aspirations of their own (of becoming an independent human being, for instance).

What’s more, part of the religious rituals of Hindu marriage performed by the family of the bride involve ones that are similar to death rites symbolizing her “death” and making her, in the process, a stranger!

Sons are also absolutely essential in a number of religious ceremonies and functions — especially funeral rights.

Hindus believe that sons facilitate their passage to heaven after death. Sons carry the dead bodies of their parents to the cremation site and light their funeral pyres. Consequently, it’s not unheard of for such families with only girls to keep having children until they have a son, or for a husband to leave a wife for not bearing him sons.

(Scientifically, the “fault” for that lies with the man — the sperm determines the sex of an embryo, NOT the egg!)

Families therefore give sons priority on most life opportunities, such as education, for instance. It’s not unusual for a rural family — which constitutes 83% of the population of the country — to send their son(s) to a boarding (residential) school, sometimes in the nearest urban center, while keeping their daughter at home to study at the local school, such as has happened to Ashmita!

Is it any wonder then that while in most countries, girls demonstrate considerably higher educational achievement than boys, it’s the opposite in Nepal?! The reason, according to the second article, is our tendency to put daughters to work at and around the house more than sons.

Sona and her two younger siblings.

Sona (far right) and her two younger siblings. Click here to read her story.

For a sizable proportion of girls, such as Parbati’s sister or Muskhaan or Sona (see image on the right), secondary school education is not even an option! According to Nazish, in “Nepal: One of The Worst Places To Be a Child?“, 1.6 millions Nepalese children are part of the work-force in the country and — here’s the important bit — “girls have it worse.”

From when they are pretty young, our society sends our girls this not-so-subtle message everyday: “You are not worth as much as our boys!”

What must that do to how they see themselves? What must that do to their sense of self-esteem and self-worth?

When that message finally hits home, it kills the dreams of many young Nepalese girls, I am sure. When the dreams of a child dies, I am also certain, a little bit of the child dies!

I know because I experienced some of that when, at times in my own childhood, pursuing my own near-imppossible dream, I encountered hurdles that I felt were insurmountable.

Girls and women who do make it to schools and institutions of higher education, after fighting all the odds stacked against them, face considerable hurdles and challenges still.

Most educational institutions are staffed and run by men, to say nothing of the pressures from family and community to get married and start a family. Besides, in addition to lack of familial and community support, the lack of role models, I am sure, also holds them back from succeeding academically (and, subsequently, professionally) and from realizing their potential.

Those wanting to “break out,” must be considerably more driven than boys and men because they have to really stand out, just as I had to when I was a student, though for a different reason.

The preferential treatment of boys and men at home translates into our communities and society according them considerably more privileges. Boys and men enjoy a much greater degree of freedom — of movement, of choice of all kinds etc. — in everyday life. Our communities and society, however, place severe restrictions on girls and women.

The professional world too prefers men over women. Public and private offices and professional organizations are staffed and run mostly by men, for men. What’s more, I am sure the relatively insignificant percentage of women who achieve professional success experience significant work-place discrimination and even sexual-harassment. We just don’t keep a record of any that and so have no statistics.

Since professional success is a holy grail for most Nepalese women and severely lacking in social capital, the chances for economic independence and escape from the clutches of the men in their lives is minimal, making them heavily dependent on their men, and open to exploitation.

The State discriminates against women as well.

Inheritance laws, for instance, favor sons. Daughters can inherit properties but the conditions she has to fulfill are absurd, to say the least. To claim parts of her parents’ properties, for instance, a daughter must be single AND 35 or older. If later she marries, her inheritance reverts to her brothers!

The recently promulgated constitution makes them second class citizens. A single Nepalese mother cannot pass citizenship to her children for instance, nor can a Nepalese woman married to a foreign man.

Girls and women suffer disproportionately from violence and abuse — everything from physical, emotional, psychological, mental to verbal violence and abuse — in the hands of men and the state.

Domestic violence against women is very much a part of Nepalese society, though most are reluctant to discuss and confront it. A small minority of girls and women from wealthy families enjoy some freedom and opportunities, while the rest suffer disproportionately because of, again, our conservative patriarchal society, made worse by poverty. Thousands of girls and women are trafficked into urban centers in the country as well as abroad every year into the sex industry. Following the recent earthquakes, trafficking, by all accounts, have increased considerably.

When it comes to crimes, especially gender-based crimes, victim-blaming, ingrained in our culture and tradition, is rampant. Our custom has double standards — women are expected to adhere to and uphold higher moral standards! Our communities and society are considerably more judgmental of them.

In cases of domestic violence for instance, the assumption is that the woman must NOT have been a model wife! With rape victims, at times not only is blame placed squarely on her, often shame is associated with her, more so than with the perpetrator! With such victims, our society — and sometimes family members of the aggrieved — victimizes her even further: she is made to live with a stigma the rest of her life, far from helping her seek adequate legal recourse to ensure justice is served.

Besides, when married off, often, a girl or woman will have lost many — if not all — of her social support network, as she moves in with her in-laws. In rural Nepal, that could mean going to the next village over or several villages away, which of course further compounds her suffering. That, of course, is partly why she might receive little support from the community where she resides or, worse, the community is sometimes able to get away with treating her the way they do.

Is it any wonder then that crimes against girls and women are generally not reported as readily to begin with and, when reported, are not treated as seriously by the authorities?!

Is it any wonder then that girls and women choose to hide crimes such as these instead of seeking legal redress?!

That neglect by the misogynist State, society, communities and by families; that poverty which girls and women suffer disproportionately from; that virtually nonexistent environment for girls and women to living an independent and fulfilling lives, lives filled with opportunities for physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and professional growth and advancement; that gross structural inequality, and the minuscule social capital available to them — lead many girls and women to value their lives considerably less than those of their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons, and suffer mentally and psychologically, constantly, especially if living in rural Nepal.

But Nepalese culture has not made much stride when it comes to recognizing mental and psychological issues. Nepali language does not even have words for many of the mental illnesses/disorders or psychological problems people suffer from.

Depression, probably the most prevalent mental problem, is referred to with the blanket term mansik rog, meaning “mental illness/disease.” What’s more, considerable stigma is associated with any mental or psychological issue people face and struggle with, if they are not outright taboo and therefore hardly ever discussed and spoken about.

Those restrictions, those limitations and our society’s tendency to enforce such cultural norms and practices through sometimes emotional blackmail and/or through that very pervasive, very Nepalese passive aggressive tactics Nepalese men use, I believe, drive suffering girls and women to silence…themselves!

There is a lot we can do about that. As has been shown again and again, opportunity is what is lacking. We need to provide opportunities to our girls — opportunities for education and opportunities for them to chart their own destiny — and they’ll do the rest for themselves. I have discussed some of that in this and this post. (The second post also describes why we, Nepalese men, treat our women the way we do.)

What do you think? 

 

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References:

Suicide: Leading Cause of Death among Women in Nepal. Just what it says.

My Republica: A silent killer . “Suicide is now the leading cause of death among Nepali women of reproductive age.” The article identifies the contributing factors as mental health and domestic violence.

Nepalese student’s suicide reveals dark side of ‘globalization lottery’. The case of a young, driven and promising girl from rural Nepal, studying in Kathmandu, with big dreams of becoming a doctor, who ended up killing herself.

A Silent Killer of Women—Suicide. A very personal take on the plight by Maggie Doyne, a young American woman who founded and runs Blink Now, an organization that supports education of children in Surkhet, Nepal. The article is about the suicide of one of her students and what she is doing about the plight of Nepalese girls in her care.

NEPAL: Why are so many women killing themselves? “Women activists said the study results were not surprising, and that the problem could be even more widespread because suicides are under-reported.”

High in Nepal, a Lowly Status for Women. “Ms. Dorigny’s visit was her fourth trip to Nepal, which she said is among her favorite places to work. But it’s hard to find official statistics there regarding complicated issues: violence, rape and trafficking, for instance. Most victimized women don’t dare go to the police.”

Nepal: One of The Worst Places To Be a Child?. “Although child labor is illegal in Nepal, 1.6 million children are in the workforce. Girls have it the worst.”

Economics of rape. “There’s no available data on rape victims in terms of economic status. But it’s obvious that most rape victims and their families are poor, who rely on the rich for survival, working as wage laborers and domestic help. The victims cannot report the crime because fighting for justice in Nepal entails a long time and often a huge amount of money, unless some NGOs take up the cause.”

Girls Lead Boys in Academic Achievement Globally. Just what the headline says.

‘Female students lag behind in learning’. “A study carried out by Education Review Office (ERO) under the Ministry of Education shows that the learning achievement of male students is significantly higher, especially in like Mathematics and Science, the subjects that are generally considered tougher at school level.”

Daughters as traitors. “By doing away with the ‘or’ provision on citizenship, the state is seeking to institute gender bias as a national policy.”

Privileged freedom. Progressive families send girls abroad for education so they come back and readjust to traditional gender roles.

A review of the evidence: suicide among women in Nepal. “In Nepal, suicide was the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age in the 1998 and 2008/09.”

Additional References:

62% Nepali women feel domestic abuse is right! That is based on, “The Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010, covering 24 of Nepal`s 75 districts, focused on the state of women and children in two regions most vulnerable to disasters and the most underdeveloped: the midwest and the farwest.”

Suicide surveillance and health systems in Nepal: a qualitative and social network analysis. “Recently, the suicide rate among women 15–45 years old in Nepal was found to be 28/100,000, and suicide is the leading cause of death in this demographic group, accounting for 16 % of mortality [35].”

The Record (Sept 2016). Budhanilkantha School: The Center for Exclusion? “An alumna examines the culture of patriarchy at Nepal’s elite boarding school.” [Added Jan. 2, 2018.]

Nepali Times (March, 2018). No Country For Women. An article with the same title as this blog about how “[w]artime rape victims are off the government radar, abandoned by their husbands, ostracised by their families and society. The state, which is made up of the warring sides, has excluded rape in the interim relief process and in transitional justice.” [Added March 5, 2018.]

The Record (Sept. 2017). Violence against women in Nepal is intensifying. [Added April 4, 2018.]

The Record (March 28, 2018). Why does rape have a low conviction rate in Nepal? [Added April 4, 2018.]

The Record (April 2, 2018). Rampant domestic violence goes unpunished. [Added April 4, 2018.]

This is about the gang rape of a 22-year old woman on January 25 (according to article in The Kathmandu Post) and January 21 (according to articles in The Himalayan Times) in Landmark Hotel on Durbar Marg by four men and everything surrounding the way our justice system failed her. It started with the officers for refusing the 22-year old victim’s charges, instead, telling the victim to settle the case with the perpetrators! What’s more, the police apparently arrested one of the rapists the very day after the incident, but was released a day later! The National Human Rights Commission had to form a panel to investigate the issue! Then reports appeared of the woman changing her statement, which, the police suspect, to be a result of intimidation. Police discovered the woman’s two bank accounts to have been credited with Rs 2.4 million and four lakh rupees! When the victim’s medical report came out, according to this article in The Himalayan Times, the police source made some outrageous claims! Namely: ‘A police source said, “The report says there is no clear evidence of gang rape.” “It also showed that the private part of woman appeared to be active before the alleged gang rape.”’ It would be the third week of March before the main culprit is finally arrested. He had allegedly paid off the victim’s mother as well as the two police officers of the Metropolitan Police Circle, Durbarmarg, with whom the woman had first attempted to register the charges! The other three are still at large! The April 6 The Kathmandu Post Editorial on rape culture in the country. [Added on April 6, 2018.] 

 

 

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