Nepal is celebrating this year's 16-day campaign on Violence AgainstWomen after a devastating series of earthquakes. What is the state of women in this context?
After the earthquakes, lots of mythswere circulated in the mediaprojecting increasein the incidences of violence against women, migration and trafficking. There were all negative and bad reports. However, no one has made any authentic study to prove that kind of a bleak scenario.
How do you say that?
The data collected for Second Labor Report,of Ministry of Labor and Employment, show that women's migration has not increased following the earthquakes. The studyalso reveals that many migrant workers returned home. Interestingly, the flow of remittance has gone up in 14 earthquake affected districts. Nepalese havethe tendency to send money when the households require it. Instead of the routine six months, the money is coming everymonth. The study helps establish the real scenario.
How about trafficking?
Although the 14 earthquake affected districts are top in terms of women trafficking, there is nodire report yet. Makawanpur, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Sindhupalchowk, Dhading and Dolkhaare oftennamed as the top draw for women trafficking. Police reports, however, show very few incidents. Interestingly, police got successes in trafficking related cases filed in the courts. However, NGOs and media published the news of court victory showing as if the cases were filed after the earthquakes. Even those who disappeareda long time back were listed as earthquake victims.
Don’t you think the quake increased vulnerabilities?
It is a fact that the earthquake increasedvulnerability and risk for trafficking and violence against women because of the broken social network and disruption of economic activities. Another study conducted by IMO partnership with TU Population Department and UNFPA indicated that the situation was not as bad. The study reveals that social networksbroke, families were separated but they remained in the same area. These increased the risk to women, particularly adolescent girls, girl children, old women and pregnant women.
What kinds of risks had increased?
The risks variedin type. In the name of adaptation, the girl children were being taken away and some young and teenage women were victim of migration and trafficking. There was also the risk of violence against women, particularly pregnant and elderly ones. The reports indicate that there were a lot of psychological pressures for women. The report of Women, Children and Social Welfare,from the Women and Children Center, reveals that there was an increase in the risks of violence against women and trafficking.
Do you think something had gone wrong?
It is not true that everything had gone wrong against girls and women and all women were vulnerable to trafficking and rape. The good thing is that the earthquake also strengthened the support system in the tents and temporary shelters among women. The feeling of self-help and supporting each other in the time of crisis increased. People are now more aware aboutviolence against women. What I can say is that the risk increased because the situation is fragile but I cannot exaggerate the situation as bad.
What change do you see in the last two decades of VAW campaign?
Of course, the 16-day celebration has a historical importance and significance. Many changes have happened since. We have been celebrating it as an annual ritual. During the 16 days, some make efforts to exaggerate the situation showing an alarming picture. Efforts are also made to dramatically create the false alarm. Efforts are also made to show the magical solution for alarming problems.
What are the problems then?
The failure of our campaign is that we have yet to go into the depth of problems of achievement in women rights, including at legal and policy level.We have hardly an concrete idea about where our level of social awareness is and what the level of access of women in economic activities and livelihood is. We are yet to make in-depth studies on women’s reach in politics.
Whyis it not happening?
The 16-day VAW campaign is a global campaign. It has nothing to do with our social context. This is not our own creation.VAW campaigns are observed with support from international donor communities by local NGOs. We are making efforts to fitthe international campaign on our national context. One of the important contributions of the two weeks of VAW campaign is that it reminds urban women and media about the violence against women. We focus all our programs around 16 days campaign.
Is there any difference in the program this year?
Unlike in the past, there was a program for cross ministerial discussion and this was a good part. We need to raise the issues of violence against women round the year not just in these 16 days. This is the message that needs tobe circulated during the campaign.
How do you look at the rural and urban situations?
Ruralwomen are rising up by forming women's groups and cooperatives and they do analyze their agenda on the basis of their political affiliations. They analyze issues politically.They analyze the things how much wages do they get and why they get less wages. They discuss issues like their involvement in politics and why they are denied shares in cooperatives.There is a huge gap in the level of awareness in Kathmandu and rural Nepal.
How do you say that?
The awareness and progress in Kathmandu is judged on the basis of percentage of participation and involvement. Urban women are counting percentage and declare the success on that basis. Whether the program is launched by political parties, NGOsor people like us,the urban centric programs are based on data and percentage of progress. However, the grass root level campaign touches the heart of the problem.
What needs to be done to bridge the gap in real rural context and urban campaign based on exaggerated data?
The time has come to redefine women's movement and campaign. Nepal’s women movement is spearheaded by the women's organizations affiliated to political parties. It is a failure of leaders affiliated to political parties to guide the women's movement. However, NGOs do the campaigns on the basis of that data.
How do you describe the women's movement in Nepal?
The history of Nepalese women's movement goes back to Yog Maya, ShahanaPradhan, Mangaladevi and MotideviShrestha. Our demandsare still education and health for women. They are no more the same demands --these are the responsibility ofthe welfare state, which is obliged to provide health and education to all its citizens.It is our constitutional right. Our problem is that the women's rights campaign launched by NGOs, media and persons like us working in international organizations has failed to give proper direction to women's movement.
What should be the agenda then?
I see there should be two agenda. One is legal rights and the other is economic rights. Even the present constitution does not recognize the equal rights of women in citizenship. There is a discrimination against women. Women require men to acquire citizenship.
But the constitution has given equal rights to women to acquire the citizenship. Isn't that true?
I am not talking about the citizenship issue,on the basis offoreign male married to Nepali women and Nepali women married to foreign male, and mother ‘Or’ father ‘And’ mother ‘And’ father. These are controversial issues. As long as the state cannot end the legal exploitation of women in citizenship, women cannot be independent citizens. As long as legal discrimination against women continues in citizenship, it closes all the doors for their economic opportunities. As long as you cannot have legal independence to get the citizenship, it is impossible for economic development.
Can you explain this?
According to our constitution and law, nobody can deny citizenship to males, but the father and husband can deny citizenship right to women. They can even withdraw the citizenship given to women and children. Women are at risk and there are many layers for restrictions to them. I know some of my divorcee relatives and friends whose son or daughter does not get citizenship because the father of the children declined to give recommendations. It is unfortunate that the issue of citizenship has not been raised in the women's movement. We just raise the issue about mother and father and father or mother. We need to settle these two issues in the constitution and law. Iblame political parties and their leaders for the failure to provide equal rights to women in constitution and law.