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Nepal: No Country for Women

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gender breakdown bar graph final-resized

I have decided that we, Nepalese men, are not only a chauvinistic, but quite an insecure bunch as well.

Thinking back to the way I used to view girls and women based pretty much entirely on acculturation in the country, had I never left Nepal, most likely, the above statistics wouldn’t have bothered me anywhere near as it does now. Sure, even as a young student, the way many of my female relatives suffered in the hands of the male members of our Tibeto-Nepalese community rattled me. Being a young student and knowing full well how, had I spoken up, I would have been summarily humiliated for having the temerity to comment on that, however, I rarely spoke up.

We, Nepalese men, are not only a chauvinistic, but quite an insecure bunch as well. #Nepal Click To Tweet

(It was also for similar reason that I rarely, if ever, spoke up about caste-based discrimination I myself and others in the country faced.)

But then of course, one of the many reasons for dreaming of going abroad for studies was to learn to think and behave differently.

For instance, growing up in Nepal, I was shy around girls and women. Apart from the two years or so in Pokhara, I had spent the rest of my academic career at an all-boys school in Kathmandu. What’s more, I was taught exclusively by male teachers the entire five years of secondary education, and we are all boys in my family!

In the “West” for the first time in 1988, I went from biting my nails when having to interact with girls to doing a lot with them, such as sharing seats with them during lessons, working together on science labs with them, going camping, hiking, and sharing dorms etc. Not surprisingly, that my shyness had partly to do with the culture and society I had grown up in — and not entirely my personality — became clear when I lost most of my shyness just being outside Nepal. Two years of that in Italy was followed by another three and a half years in the US and half a year in the UK.

I had girl friends who I studied, worked, played together and collaborated with at the same level and extent as I had boy friends. I had girl friends from many countries and cultures. I had female teachers and professors who were as capable as and taught me as much as my male teachers and professors etc. Not surprisingly, before I started my professional career, I had pretty much abandoned many of the Nepalese-culture specific ideas about who and what girls and women were.

Things were not much different when I became a professional. Not only did I regularly have female colleagues I worked very closely with — pretty much all of whom I learned a great deal from and had great deal of respect for — I also had female supervisors and superiors. I didn’t view any of them any differently from how I viewed my male colleagues or superiors!

What’s more, rarely were any working environment or social gathering eschewed heavily in favor of one or the other gender — unless the gathering was for an evening of Poker! Having thus played and worked alongside girls and women during my entire adult life, I came to view and treat, girls and women as my equal.

Returning to Nepal, I have come to a very challenging social and professional world, created, maintained and reinforced by men for men, mostly.

To a world that treats girls and women differently, to a world where they are woefully under-represented in pretty much all spheres of life!

To begin with, the constitution and laws of the country — created mostly by men — give preferential treatment to — surprise, surprise — men. The draft constitution doesn’t allow mothers to pass their citizenship to their children, and inheritance laws favor sons, giving rise to the following situation with house and land ownership, to give you but just two examples.

land & house ownership by gender

Female representation in public and private sectors and professional organizations is abysmal as one can see from the chart at the top.

We haven’t had a single female Prime Minister, though, I suspect, most Nepalese wouldn’t find that surprising or objectionable! Only two of the current twenty-two ministers are women. I am sure we have had worse representation in the past, though we fought a ten-year civil war recently for equality, among other things!

We haven’t had a single female Supreme Court Chief Justice either — all twenty-two retired Chief Justices are men! What’s more, we have had a grand total of only four female Supreme Court Justices out of a total of eighty-seven! Only one of the current eleven justices is a woman!

The country has 120 registered political parties, and thirty of them won seats in the November 2013 Constituent Assembly elections. How many women do you think head the thirty parties? Take a wild guess and you’ll likely be correct!

Professional organizations are not much better either.

The Bar Association Executive Board with five women out of seventeen members is slightly better. But their Advisory Board is basically a men-only club — only one of the ninety-five members is a woman! The Central Committee of Federation of Nepalese Journalist, made up of six women out of forty-two members, and three male Advisers, is pretty much the same!

(The private sector in the country, I am sure, is not much better!)

Nepalese professional organizations based outside the country have minimal female representation as well.

The Association of Nepalis in the Americas (ANA), an organization founded in the US as far back as 1983 and made up of members residing in the Americas, reflects better the culture and country the members are from than the country and culture they are in! It’s run by an all-men, seven Board of Directors. It does slightly better with its five Officers: one is a woman!

Non-resident Nepali Association (NRNA) founded in 2003 is another huge organization with chapters in many countries around the world. Its members consist mostly of Nepalese who once called Nepal home but now live permanently outside. Twenty-three Office Bearers head the organization but only four are women. Two of those women are Women Coordinators! Of the current sixty-five ICC members, only eight are women, while out of the twenty-eight Patrons and Advisors only two are women!

For an organization whose slogan reads “For Nepal, By Nepali,” going by their office bearers’ gender composition, they don’t appear to be for and by half the people of the country they ostensibly represent. This may just be another case of “You can take a Nepalese man out of Nepal but you can’t take Nepal out of him!”

Anyway…jokes aside…you get the idea.

So, are Nepalese girls and women as incapable as and as much a failure as the data indicate? Of course not!

The reason and explanation for that is us, Nepalese men. Our girls and women aren’t failing; we are failing them!

Nepalese society controlled and managed by us — chauvinistic and narrow-minded Nepalese men — actively and deliberately hold back girls and women by putting hindrances and obstacles in their path at every stage of their lives in the name of culture and tradition, considerably more than in many countries I have been.

Our girls and women aren't failing; we are failing them! #Nepal #GenderEquality #Diversity Click To Tweet

All through the history of the country, there has been an unabashed campaign by men to sideline them in order to assert their self-professed and self-affirmed “superiority.” (How we do that will have to be the subject of another post.)

What I think we, Nepalese men, are doing, however, is trying to hide our insecurity!

If you don’t believe me just ask any Nepalese man why our society treats females the way we do or why they do not appear to succeed academically and professionally. They’ll give you their standard, sad excuses and justification confirming that!

Luckily for me, I had quite a different experience from most Nepalese men, an experience we should be able to replicate in Nepal. If we are to make social progress, we must — and can — create an environment where men have the kind of experience I had with girls and women abroad.

In order for that to happen we, the Nepalese men, must own up the problem. We must be willing to say that we have failed them AND actively create — in our daily lives — an environment and space for them to live life with all the privileges and opportunities we enjoy, giving girls and women in Nepal the opportunity to experience the kind of life my female friends and colleagues abroad did.

To be sure, that helps not only our girls and women, but also us men and the whole country. Studies have shown again and again and again that girls and women are the key to both economic development and social progress especially in developing countries like ours.

The next generation, those in their mid-teens to late-twenties, the youths, also show some hope. They have shown that they can take leadership roles as demonstrated by their response to the recent earthquakes. My hope is that they are as informed and educated about women’s issues and that they will work to steer the country in the right direction.

How is it where you work? Are you only one of a handful of women in your work place? Have you ever worked under a woman? How many women colleagues and men colleagues do you have where you work? How many of your administrators and executives are men? How many women?

Please do share!

What else can you do in the mean time?

Sign the petition Demanding Equal rights for Women in Nepal’s Constitution. (Scroll down for the English version.)

Subscribe to Chaukath Feminist Blog for women’s issues in Nepal. One of the writers is a woman friend. They publish materials in both Nepali and English.

Support LOCAL organizations founded and headed by women that address women’s issues. Here are some:

  • Higher Ground Nepal. Headed by Bimala Shrestha Pokharel. One of the number of work they do is help Nepalese girls and women.
  • Action Works Nepal. I had the pleasure of meeting, once, Radha Poudyal, the founder and President. Their work is also focused on women.
  • Pourakhi Nepal. Unfortunately, the last time I checked, their website appeared to have been hacked! The organization is founded and run, mostly, by women for women migrant workers. Click here to go their Facebook page instead.
  • Galli Galli. Another not-for-profit organization founded by a woman (friend) and staffed mostly by women.

I am sure there are many more women leaders and organizations doing good work for girls and women. If you know of any, add them below in the comment sections.

We at COMMITTED also do what we can supporting the education of girls in our project sites.

 

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References:

List of Prime Ministers of Nepal.

Current Ministers of Nepal.

Current Supreme Court Justices. Just what it says.

Retired Supreme Court Chief Justices. Just what it says.

Retired Supreme Court Justices. Just what it says.

NBA Executive Board. Nepal Bar Association (NBA) Executive Board.

NBA Advisory Board. Just what it says.

FNJ Central Committee. Central Committee members of Federation of Nepalese Journalist (FNJ).

ANA board of directors & officers: Association of Nepalis in the Americas (ANA) Board of Directors.

ANA Officers. Just what it says.

NRNA Office Bearers. The Office Bearers of Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA).

NRNA ICC Members. Current ICC Members of NRNA.

NRNA Patrons and Advisors. Just what it says.

Political Parties and Leaders. Thirty of the 120 registered political parties won seats in the Constituent Assembly elections of November 2013. This page lists the thirty political parties and their leaders.

 

DISCLAIMER

The fact that the names and/or details of an NGO appears on this post does NOT necessarily mean that I endorse them as well.

If you decide to support them in any way, please do your own homework before doing so.

 

Additional References added after publication of post

My Republica (April, 2017). Only men’s candidacy for mayor, women ‘sidelined’.

Onward Nepal (June, 2017). Mandated, Elected: Nepal’s Female Representatives.

My Republica (June, 2017). Over 5,000 women elected in phase one local polls.

Nepali Times (July, 2017). Just women.

The Record (Oct. 2017). Data Reveals Local Elections a Disaster for Gender Equality.

Kosheli (फाल्गुन १२, २०७४). महिलाहरू कहाँ छन् ?

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.”

The Record (March 03, 2018). Dalits and women the most under-represented in Parliament.

The Himalayan Times (Sept. 25, 2017). Sons, daughters to have equal rights in parental property. “The Parliament today passed the Civil Code Bill and the Civil Procedure Code Bill heralding sweeping reforms in the country’s civil law, including equal property rights for sons and daughters.” [Added on Aug. 24, 2018.]

Open Contracting Partnership (Nov. 16, 2018). Where is the equality? A look at gender equality and social inclusion data in Nepal’s procurement system. [Added on Nov. 21, 2018.]

The Kathmandu Post (Feb. 1, 2020). Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe: Patriarchy is structural—it is in every individual. [Added on Feb. 2, 2020.]

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Re-reading and really appreciating this post today, for both the personal reflections and stats! Whenever I go elsewhere in Southasia I tend to be grateful that male-female friendships, at least in Kathmandu, are (it sounds like no longer?) considered such a big deal. But there’s still such, such a long way to go. And I tend to think that the separation of kids by gender in school, for example, just reinforces these harms — and in its own way, sexualizes all interactions. Here’s to trying to achieve equality and equity, structurally + every day. 🙂

    1. Hey KP,
      Thanks for the kind words!
      I agree with what you say about single-sex schools! My old school is a co-educational school now, which is a move in the right direction.

  2. You are wonderful and humanity needs more people such as you… Thanks much

    1. Dear Barbara,

      Thank you for your kind words!!

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