“Nepal has made immense progress in terms of gender equality”, said Veronica Cody, Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Nepal; during her welcome remarks at a half-day discussion on the topic “Women in Nepal: the Journey To Prosperity” organized on 5 December in Kathmandu. The program was organized as part of the global 16-day campaign against Gender Based Violence, being implemented in collaboration with the United Nations.
Ambassador Cody lauded the significant steps taken by Nepal in terms of developing inclusive political and economic policies. However, at the same time, she pointed the need to implement the laws and policies in place as there are cases of violence and discrimination against women being reported time and again . She presented the initiative being taken by the European Union (EU) to advocate for gender equality with the introduction of the “Gender Champion”. She herself will be taking up the role from 1 January 2019.
Addressing the program, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Speaker, House of Representatives highlighted that 41% of elected officials at the local level and 32% at provincial and federal levels are women. He also reiterated that the constitution recognizes women’s rights as a fundamental right and National Women Commission as a constitutional body. However, he stated that there is still a lot to do to achieve an “equality-based society”. He thanked the EU for its support in this endeavour.
The roundtable discussion included the participation of Krishna Bhakta Pokharel, Chairperson, Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights, Federal Parliament of Nepal, Mohna Ansari, Member, National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, Kamala Shrestha, Chairperson, Women, Entrepreneurs and Development Committee, Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) and Bharati Silwal Giri, Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) Expert. The discussion was moderated by Rajesh Hamal who began by commemorating the relevancy of this discussion on the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Krishna Bhakta Pokharel presented on the topic “Women for inclusive laws and policies” and remarked that the present constitutional and legal frameworks are the most progressive in terms of gender equality till date. The constitution guarantees women’s property rights, reproductive rights and various other social rights. For the first time, Chhaupadi has been criminalised, dowry carries a sentence of 3 to 5 years and rape is now punishable by up to life in prison, he said. However, he accepted that gender bias still prevails when it comes to granting citizenship in the name of the mother. Overall, he expressed optimism that with equal laws now in place, Nepal may be able to achieve an equal society in the next 8 to 10 years.
Mohna Ansari spoke on the topic, “Women for effective implementation of the laws and policies” and clearly stated that although our laws have been improved, they still are not enough. And as long as 51% of Nepali population (women) are not included in mainstream development, the nation cannot achieve prosperity, she said.
Kamala Shrestha presented the innovative concept of utilizing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to empower women, especially in the field of e-commerce. She stated that true empowerment can only come from financial independence and hence, women entrepreneurs must be encouraged, most prominently in the field of Small and Medium Enterprises. She also shed light on the problem that women are often not trusted to take up leadership roles and so, the society must be convinced of a woman’s leadership potentials.
Bharati Silwal Giri presented on “Women in the lead in Nepal: Issues, Challenges and Way forward” and challenged the notion of women officials elected at various levels. Women have found a place in public sphere but mostly as token positions. Among the mayor and deputy mayor, women have mostly been elected as deputy mayors. And while Nepal does have a woman president, the position is without power and prerogatives. She expressed that woman must be allowed to do constructive work and not merely given posts. She opined that the major hurdle for women empowerment lies in the institutionalized form of patriarchy.
The event also included a session on Gender Sensitive Local Government where Somnath Sapkota, Mayor, Musikot Municipality, Gulmi and Salma Khatun, Deputy Mayor, Pokhariya Municipality, Parsa shared their learning and experiences on gender equality at the local and grassroots level. Sapkota clarified on the special relevance of gender equality for his municipality. Most males in Musikot are abroad for foreign employment so the society is largely comprised of females, who need to be empowered to drive the society to development. For this, he shared that his municipality is engaged in training, technology, loan and grants to facilitate women mainstreaming.
Salma Khatun presented her perspective as an elected woman official at the local level. She said that women have been elected but their voices have yet to be heard. Often, the elected women are themselves not being able to exercise their rights. So, they cannot be expected to help ensure the rights of other women. She also shared the work her municipality is doing with regards to gender equality like distributing cycles to facilitate female mobility and promotion of menstrual hygiene. “Women are the basis of a family, and when they are not happy, the family and the society cannot be happy," she said.
The session was followed by a questions and answers session where the participants posed various questions to the panellists and the Mayor/Deputy Mayor. The session concluded that men and boys also need to be engaged in the wider debate of strengthening women's rights.
Zane Petre, Head of Political, Press & Public Diplomacy Section, European Union Delegation to Nepal delivered the vote of thanks where she thanked all the beneficiaries, stakeholders, member states and partners for making the event a success. She reaffirmed gender equality as a core value of EU and EU’s commitment in gender as a cross cutting issue in its development cooperation with Nepal. She highlighted EU’s role in both advocacy and practice of gender equality, not just in Nepal but all around the world.