About Women in Nepal
Nepalese society remains deeply patriarcal. Considered as second-class citizens, Nepalese women have long experienced poverty, social exclusion and marginalization because of their gender. The majority of them still face a future largely dominated by caring for their families, while daily chores keep depriving girls from education and leisure.
The 2013 Gender Inequality Index, reflecting gender-based inequalities in three dimensions – reproductive health, political empowerment and economic activity – ranked Nepal 102nd out 183 countries.
(United Nations Development Programme UNDP, 2013, Human Development Report: The Rise of South, Human Progress in a Diverse World, New York)
According to the 2016 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey, one in three women (33%) and one in ten men aged 15-49 have no education. 17% of women and 19% of men have only attended primary school, 26% of women and 34% of men have attended some secondary education.
The cost of education is often unaffordable for Nepalese families (tuition, uniforms, stationery, books) and for those of them with sufficient financial means, sons will be given the opportunity before daughters.
Work and political participation
Women undertake most of the domestic duties. When working outside the home, they are generally engaged in semiskilled and unskilled jobs, closely related to their households tasks. For the same work, they earn about 70% of men’s wages.
Women’s access to political and administrative positions is still minimal, especially for those coming from poor, low-caste and ethnic minority groups. However, progress has been made in women’s political representation, due to the reservation of seats provided through the Interim Constitution of Nepal (2007) and the implementation of proportional representation system. Women’s representation in the Constituent Assembly increased to 29% in the November 2013 elections, from 2,9% in 1991. In October 2015, the first female President was elected in the country.
40% of Nepalese girls are married before their 18th birthday, 7% before the age of 15. According to the UNICEF, Nepal has the 17th highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world, with 587,000 child brides (www.girlsnotbrides.org).
Marriage is often seen as a mean to reduce the economic « burden » of the girls on their families. In the southern Terai plains, parents also consider that having their daughters married at a very early age will avoid them paying higher prices. As a result, an increasing number of girls now choose to « self-initiate » marriage at a young age (« love marriages ») in order to escape forced marriages.
Schools generally provide little knowledge about women’s health, especially because menstruation is taboo and menstruating women considered « untouchable ». Still nowadays, people believe menstruation is a curse.
In rural areas of Nepal, menstruating girls are banished from their family homes and forced into huts very far from their villages. They are not allowed to see any male, even their brothers, and cannot touch elder women either. They don’t have the right to leave the hut before their period is over, even if they get sick, have a fever or feel pain and need to go to the hospital. Each year women lose their lives in these huts – typically from animal bites or smoke inhalation.
Even in urban areas and cities like Kathmandu, women still face discrimination: they are not allowed to visit temples or other public areas and have to keep away from the kitchen.
Domestic violence, rapes and trafficking
The latest Nepal Demographic Health Survey (2016) points out that nearly one ever-married woman in three in Nepal has experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence from their intimate partner. More than one in five women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15. Married women are the most affected by domestic violence (80%), the most common perpetrator of physical violence being the current husband (84%).
The National Women Commission of Nepal also started collecting data through its national level 24-hour toll free helpline opened in 2017. The typology of the « registered » violence against women has been categorised: emotional (34%), economic (30%), physical (28%) and sexual (8%) – though many survivors experience more than one type of violence. Between November 2017 and April 2019, 86,400 calls were received and the number of women reporting about domestic violence suffered keeps increasing.
According to the National Women Commission’s collected data, women from upper caste groups would be affected the most (44%), with the highest incidence of domestic violence found in Kathmandu Valley. Yet women in rural areas, of low economic and educational status, are less likely to report – especially in the lowland plains of Terai and in the midwestern and far-western regions.
Even though an integrated system of protection at the national level has helped offering better answers to abuses (government working directly with health service providers to refer patients to crisis centres), a very low percent of women agree to file cases against their attackers and most return home. Many victims of domestic violence prefer to remain quiet, afraid of the possible consequences of speaking up. In all, women have to cope both with the trauma of the attack and the stigma associated, facing the risk of being expelled from their house/village. A lot of registered cases are also mediated and attackers are rarely charged for their criminal behaviour in the end.
Discrimination against women and girls creates a fertile ground for trafficking and child labor. Is is estimated that 300,000 Nepalese women are currently employed in Indian brothels – more than 15,000 women and girls being trafficked every year from Nepal to the sex markets of India, taken on the pretext of marriages and sold.
Reported cases of rape have quadrupled in the past ten years while, according to a report by Burns Violence Survivors-Nepal, from 2010 to mid-September 2018, a total of 117 homicides, 108 suicides and 26 attacks were recorded across the country. Few women survive such attacks.
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