A horrific incident on the morning of 6 September 2019 changed Muskan Khatun’s life forever. The 14-year-old was attacked with acid on her way to school. Images of a recovering Muskan went viral on social media. Messages of support poured in from strangers, celebrities visited her bedside, popular Indian actors called her on video.
Muskan, which means smile, might be one of the luckier survivors. Her family supports her wish to get an education, the Nepali public has praised her for staying positive and despite her harsh scars, she remains hopeful for the future.
Between 2010 and 2017, Burn Violence Survivors (BVS-Nepal), a Kathmandu-based NGO, has recorded about 40 cases of acid attacks annually. On several occasions, these attacks have led women to develop depression. Half of the suicide cases in Nepali women aged 15-49 follow burn violence.
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On 25 November, as we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, we must remember Muskan’s plight and think about what more we can do to help end all forms of gender-based violence.
I am encouraged that the Government of Nepal has declared Nepali year 2076 as the year for ending gender-based violence. The federal government, along with provincial and local authorities, is working hard to ensure that the campaign’s messages trickle down to the local level.
Gender-based violence has many different forms and varies in magnitude. To make sense of it all and support the government’s initiatives, having good data is crucial. This gives the work better direction by identifying pertinent issues and informing good decision-making, especially where resources are limited.
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In my short time in Nepal, I have been fortunate to engage with heads of governments at all three levels, as well as with women human rights activists and community leaders. I am convinced that the Government of Nepal has taken ending gender-based violence seriously.
The UK is happy to be supporting this work in Nepal, along with several other donors, multilateral agencies and civil society actors. Our global strategic vision for gender work has five main components, all of which need to be underpinned by good data if we are to be successful in eliminating gender-based violence.
Data shows us that education plays a critical role in helping reduce the instances of gender-based violence. While 49% of Nepali women who experienced gender-based violence at home were illiterate, only 13% who had higher than secondary level education had similar experiences. The UK’s Girls’ Education Challenge focuses on communities that have fallen behind in educating the girl child.
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There is lots of room for progress, but data shows that overall, only 53% of currently married women use a method of family planning, with 10% using a traditional method. Three out of every 5 women who began using a contraceptive method in the 5 years before the survey discontinued the method within 12 months.
Because there are more new stories around gender-based violence, it tends to give the impression that people’s awareness has also improved. However, data has helped us identify that we need to do more work around building awareness of violence against women and girls: 78% of Nepali women and girl survivors of gender-based violence have never sought any help, including from the police or even getting checked by a doctor. 66% of survivors remained completely silent about the violence.
In Nepal, women spend more hours doing paid work and shoulder more than three times the amount of unpaid labour as their male counterparts. Despite this, women earn less money and own but a small percentage of the country’s wealth. Although Nepal has one of the highest rates of economic participation by women in Asia, most women do lower skilled, insecure jobs that pay less than men. Only 11% of women own their own piece of land, while only 8% of women own a house.
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Nepal’s new Constitution has put more women in decision-making roles than at any point in Nepal’s history. One way for these decision-makers to be effective at their roles is by being able to understand and use data to make evidence-based decisions. Our Evidence for Development program (E4D) aims to improve the quality of such data, including better data disaggregation, to provide better information to policy and decision-makers on specific groups of people, including women. It also trained civil servants to understand and use data better.
Working with data helps us to continually assess our work to tackle gender-based violence, better understand the current challenges and empower women and girls to take control of their lives. This is why DFID is supporting the upcoming 16 days of activism, with a social media campaign focusing on how data can help us address gender-based violence.
Publishing this data helps us work in an open and transparent manner. The numbers hold us to account for the state of things and push everyone to do more.
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Lisa Honan is the Head of Office for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID Nepal) in Kathmandu.