Nepal is celebrating the International Women’s Day by organizing various programs as in the past several years. With the national slogan, ‘End of Violence against Women: Maintain Zero Tolerance,’ Nepal is focusing its programs to reduce domestic violence. With good command over development issues, BALANANDA PAUDEL, Secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, a lead ministry dealing with women related issues, says the Day has its own significance. Secretary Paudel spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues related to the International Women Day. Excerpts:
As Nepal has been celebrating the International Women’s Day on March 8 annually, what makes this year’s program different than in the past?
Celebrating International Women’s Day is a regular program. We have been celebrating the Day on March 8 every year since 1975. This day is celebrated globally. The day has significance especially in bringing women related issues to the forefront for women’s empowerment, women’s development and their economic uplift. We highlight such issues on the day. This day will also help to generate awareness in the society about the problems faced by women. This day also gives an opportunity to disseminate information regarding women, to further reiterate the commitment to address their issues and work towards that.
This day also gives a chance to evaluate the overall programs of the past and find out the lapses and lacunas in the programs related to women’s development.
Shed some light on this year’s slogan?
‘Connecting Girls: Inspiring Future’ is the slogan of this year’s International Women’s Day. Nepal’s own slogan for the day is ‘End the Violence against Women: Maintain Zero Tolerance.’ Our whole program will be directed towards these slogans.
How is the government celebrating the occasion?
As in the past, the government is celebrating the International Women’s Day by raising the agenda related to women’s empowerment and ending discrimination and violence against women. We also evaluate our own performance and interventions by reiterating our commitments. Nepal has made many achievements since Nepal started to celebrate the International Women’s Day.
How do you look at the issues related to women’s empowerment and uplift?
So far as the issues related to women’s empowerment and uplift is concerned, they are multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral. They have social, economic, educational and cultural dimensions. Among others, we need to concentrate more on education and economic dimensions. There is the need to provide more opportunity in the education sector. Women are backward due to unequal treatments in all sectors. Thus, the state must provide further incentives through positive discrimination. When I was the education secretary, I took a decision for the establishment of Women’s Education Fund. Under this fund, thousands of women have been receiving support. University Grant Commission and Higher Education Secondary Board provide scholarships to women through the money received from the fund. The intervention in education sector is a major thing.
What are other aspects of interventions?
Other equally important part is economic intervention. This includes rights to parental property, rights to employment and implementation of policy on positive discrimination. Along with economic and social dimension, we also need to strengthen programs to address social and cultural dimensions. Although the social and cultural dimensions are also important, it requires a long duration to change the social and cultural dimensions. They are related to human psychology and approach and they need generation to generation of time to settle. Education and economic empowerment can be the point of new change. If we can make women educationally capable and economically self sustained, this will help to end the discrimination against women.
What are the instruments for interventions?
We have three instruments available to intervene in the process. The first one is a legal instrument. Under this, we can intervene in the process of discrimination by making the laws. By making laws, we can make mandatory provisions, the list of work to do and not to do. Law can be used as vehicles. Other is economic incentives and disincentives. Under this medium, we can encourage people to do good things and discourage people to do bad things. The current legal provision to give 50 per cent discounts in land registration and transferring property to women has made good impacts. This incentive can motivate people to transfer the property in women’s names. The third important aspect is social tools. This is related to advocacy, dissemination of messages, development of women friendly curriculum and public campaigns. Through this we can generate awareness on women’s issues and agenda. You cannot bring any changes through a single tool or a single institution. As I have already mentioned, gender and women make a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional issue.
How do you evaluate the priority given to women’s issue?
Although we have been saying women’s issue is our priority issue, we are yet to identity priority sectors. We need to do a lot of work to make all the interventions implemented by various sectoral ministries women friendly. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare should be given a lead role by developing expertise.
What is your impression about the role of Nepal’s development partners?
Various development partners including bilateral, multilateral, UN, INGOs and NGOs have been working in the women’s sector. The Ministry is now thinking about looking into where there are overlaps and gaps in working with Nepal’s development partners. To make women related programs more effective, the Ministry has to look into these two important things. If there is a gap, the government encourages Nepal’s development partners to meet the gap. If there is an overlap, the government will ask them to streamline. The Ministry also wants to look at no cost as what cost the services are delivered. Is it value for money or something else? We have to know on what cost they have been providing the services. It is important to know this.
How can you make women related programs more effective?
Women development programs need to be aligned with national priorities. Their interventions and activities should be aligned with national priorities. Paris Declaration also has called for this alignment. The declaration has also said that donor countries have to align the national priorities. The government and ministry have to clearly tell development partners about the priorities in women’s sector. We need to be very clear on that. We have to communicate this to our development partners. We have to motivate them to align their programs to our priorities.
How do you see the government’s institutional arrangements?
We need to encourage government’s institutional arrangements. District Women offices are the arms and legs of this ministry. We need to empower district offices in terms of manpower, resources and activities. We have to realign, reprioritize and empower those offices. District Women Offices have been launching a very effective program in the rural parts of Nepal through a cooperative. We don’t have to reach each and every house of rural areas. Through the cooperatives, the related district offices have been implementing the programs in economically, socially and culturally deprived communities. There are women cooperatives in all the VDCs and the ministry has been implementing the programs through these cooperatives. They have already collected 1.6 billion rupees through more than 1300 cooperatives.
Why are women cooperatives important?
Cooperatives are self driven and self motivated movements. People are working for themselves. If this is so, we need to do more. The cooperatives encourage people to develop a loose relationship to do something for them. Cooperatives encourage people to get involved in economic activities. Women are organized under cooperatives in the villages and it is a medium to reach the villages. We can provide support to them through this. We have to make all these cooperatives as a vehicle to reach each household. For instance, when we have been raising the issue of women’s violence, cooperatives can be used against violence. If we have to empower women, we must launch programs directed through them.
How gender friendly is the budget?
The Ministry of Finance has been working to formulate a gender friendly budget. Women’s empowerment should be a priority sector. We are making plans but somebody else holds the budget. We need to reach out to each household. We cannot empower the deprived and needy women only by making this as an issue of certain elites. We need to shift women related agenda to the rural parts from the urban areas.
How do you see the current violence against woman?
Recent trends show that the violence against women is not confined to rural areas. We have seen this violence in high class of urban society as well. Despite all the efforts, there are sporadic incidents of violence against women. The state needs to give protection to women by providing them safer homes to shelter victim women. The state needs to launch reactive and proactive works. Proactive nature of work includes providing incentives through the cooperatives.
Your slogan is maintaining zero tolerance of violence against women. How can you achieve it?
We want to do this through the cooperatives set up by Women Development Offices. We will launch the zero tolerance programs round the year.
What does the country need to do to make women’s programs effective?
There are so many organizations working in women’s sector and there is the need to have coordination between them. There is the need to have mainstreaming among the various programs. Nepal government has been launching various programs. We need to have priorities set for each. They need mainstreaming in terms of implementation.