Last week a mob killed a woman on charges of being a witch. This occurred in Chitwan, 100 kilometers southwest of the capital, Kathmandu. Similarly, a group of villagers physically assaulted a woman in Sindhupalchowk. Widows are seen as witches in Nepal and sometimes face horrendous repercussions – they are not allowed to wear red, the color of life and passion.
Nepal is one of the most significant recipients of international financial aid in South Asia. This funding has helped the country to make many improvements in the realm of women’s empowerment. But still, much progress is needed. In the last three decades, the lifestyle of women in Nepal has gone through many changes. However, the change mostly happened in the urban areas. The lifestyles of urban women living in capital Kathmandu and rural parts of Nepal are very different and there is a wide gap between them.
In terms of access to health, justice and education and rights, urban women get enormous opportunities, whereas rural women are still far behind. Nepal’s women literacy has gone up. Half a dozen of laws and regulations are already enacted to protect the rights of the women but the woes of rural women are yet to be reduced. Women are still bearing the entire burden in rural parts of Nepal. Various studies conducted by national and international organizations have shown that Nepalese women are the most vulnerable. Whether the impact relates to climate change or male migration, the women suffer. When a Nepalese male goes abroad to work in a foreign country, he earns money for home, but then, sometimes, he also brings HIV back home. When a man goes away, the women have to bear all the responsibilities.
Dr. Meena Acharya, a senior political economist and feminist, agrees that progress is happening: “Women’s movement on the whole is undergoing a rapid fundamental transformation; along with the changes taking place in governance structure and political representation, it is focused on proportional representation, empowerment through affirmative action, freedom from violence, operation strategies, regulatory enforcement and capacity building.
Yet the women of Nepal still face a wide range of discriminatory practices that cloud their entire existence. For one, poverty overwhelmingly has a woman’s face. The World Food Program estimates that 60 percent of all chronically malnourished people in the world are women and girls. The major cause of this disparity is gender inequality; therefore, countries with the highest level of hunger tend to also have very high levels of gender inequality. In Nepal, more than 25 percent of the population lives under the national poverty line. According to the Human Development Index, Nepal ranks 138 out of 169 countries.
The country, which is home to the Himalayas, is a patriarchal society and most marriages are still arranged at a young age. As a result, a woman has little to no control at all about her life partner or about the direction she wants to take in her life. She is expected to live with her husband’s family and is responsible for traditional roles such as taking care of the children and contributing to the family income through often back-breaking labor in the fields. Nevertheless, some strong independent women respect their family’s will to marry and adjust their life as the culture dictates to them.
Unfortunately, women have less access and control over resources like property rights and services like health and education in this male-dominated country. These disparities diminish the capabilities among Nepalese women, worsening female poverty and leading to discrimination and violence.
Since 2002, many legal changes have been made to protect Nepalese women. For example, a law that year was enacted that serves to pass property to widows on the death of their husbands. The problem in Nepal is that there is a wide difference between a law being written and whether it is actually enforced. Polygamy is also illegal, but its practice is still widespread. The reason for that could be that life for a single woman is even harder than for a married woman and it is a part of Nepalese culture. In 2009, a crime and punishment law was made to protect women who suffer domestic abuse, which can include physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse.