While a debate about equal citizenship rights for women raged in Parliament this week, single women who survived the earthquake are quietly and bravely struggling against deep-rooted patriarchy to rebuild homes and carrying on with their lives.
On International Women’s Day, this illustration by Diwakar Chhetri shows where Nepali women are today: their responsibilities have increased and so have their capacities and achievements. But they continue to face impediments from all sides, most glaringly from the state.
Staying alive, Sewa Bhattarai
Nepal’s better halves, Anil Chitrakar
Since the mid-1990s female literacy in Nepal has doubled, and this has brought far-reaching changes that have ultimately empowered women. Employment and property ownership rates, and maternal and neonatal health have dramatically improved – all because women were more aware about health and rights.
There has also been progress in politics, the economy, and sports. Not so long ago, the Chief Justice, Speaker of the Parliament and President of Nepal were all women and at the same time. We have also had one of the most inclusive parliaments in history in terms of gender. Most municipalities in Nepal have proactive female deputy mayors.
The house for the Nepali family, Sewa Bhattarai
Making gods for a living, Sonia Awale
Surviving the aftermath, Sonam Choeyki Lama
Staying positive, Sewa Bhattarai
Nepal’s National Women Cricket team returned home this week after clinching second position in the World Cup Asia Region Qualifier in Thailand. Not long ago, our women’s blind cricket team won the First International Women’s Blind Cricket Series in Pakistan. Nepal’s women football team was second runner-up at the Gold Cup in India last month.
The outflow of men for overseas work has had many consequences, and the most notable is the feminisation of rural Nepal. With the men away, women have taken charge both in their homes and communities. They have decision making power in the management of schools and health posts, in community forestry and irrigation. It won’t be too far-fetched to say that much of the credit for ground-level development, despite the absence of local government for 20 years, goes to women. And now that we have local governments it is women who are standing up to corrupt male counterparts in some municipalities.
Read also: Saving Kathmandu’s past for future, Sonia Awale
To be sure, not everything is rosy. Juggling their dual roles of breadwinner and primary care givers in homes and raising children has increased their burden. This inequitable distribution of work is more prominent in urban areas where women have both careers and homes to make. Men and society in general have been slow to accept these changes, and see the economic benefits of shared responsibility at home and office.
Read also: Learning about teaching, Prakriti Kandel
Among survivors of the 2015 earthquake, women were more affected. There are an estimated 2,000 earthquake widows and 50,000 single women whose houses collapsed in the disaster. In lack of reliable support, reconstruction and survival has been more difficult for them as reported in this issue. But despite these shortcomings, women are going boldly forth where men have gone before in rebuilding lives and homes.
We have produced some of the finest females doctors, pilots, engineers, artists, teachers and historians in the past few decades. But despite the fact that for the first time FNCCI is headed by a woman, and 80% of Nepal’s labour force is female (one of the highest proportions in the world) women continue to be restricted to ‘informal sectors’.
Though there are higher numbers of women in politics today than ever before, there are still very few in leadership positions. Despite women heading all three organs of the government, the legislative, judiciary and executive at one point, there are still too few actual decision-makers to exert enough influence. This has led to situations like the current citizenship debate, where a male MP this week said providing citizenship to the children of rape victims will encourage rape.
Clearly, higher literacy has not led to behaviour change among males in our conservative culture that sees women as an inferior gender. Given opportunity, women have proved themselves time and again and prevailed despite roadblocks and limitations. All they need now is a little help from institutions like the state and family to remove the obstacles that impede progress.