15-21 July 2016 #817

Autumn of the patriarchy

Social justice, development and peace require Nepali women to be on equal terms with Nepali men in all fields.

When considering the hierarchy of causes for Nepal’s ingrained instability and persistent failure of governance, there is a persuasive argument that it is the result of systematically-entrenched and culturally-sanctioned patriarchy. Mapping district-wise figures for malnutrition, poverty and infant mortality rates against data on female literacy offers a direct correlation between gender and societal wellbeing.

Nepal’s worst-performing and poorest districts are in the east-central Tarai and mid-western mountains, where the rate of female enrolment in school is lowest, the caste system is most deep-rooted, and social justice remains just a hope.

The national average rates for fertility, and infant and maternal mortality have shown dramatic reductions over the past 15 years, and this is inversely proportional to the increase in female literacy in that period. Although the dropout rate for girls is still worrisome, it is clear that educated girls marry later and have fewer children, leading to overall enhancement of the quality of life of their families.   For every rupee Nepal spends on development, the best return on investment is if it goes to increasing the enrolment of girl children and upgrading the quality of instruction in schools. We know what works, we just have to go ahead and do it without delay. 

Most conservative families inculcate patriarchal values in children, so it is up to the schools to counter this with a gender-sensitive curriculum where it is not just the girl students who learn about their rights, but the boys are also instilled with a sense of responsibility to engender social change.

We have a very long way to go, and mostly uphill. Even today, only 13 per cent of the members of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists are women. And although media is now more responsive to gender issues, the entertainment media perpetuates the objectification and stereotyping of women. Female literacy has empowered young women, but men remain steeped in a closed culture of male dominance. 

Nepal’s new constitution, despite some glaring lapses on citizenship and inclusion, is far more progressive than previous ones when it comes to reservation and quotas for women at all levels of political decision-making. This is largely the result of active lobbying by the women’s caucus in the Constituent Assembly, which allowed women across party lines to join hands to push the provisions through. The caucus has a history of progressive lawmaking — during the constitutional monarchy period before 2006, women parliamentarians had successfully amended the royal succession rules to allow a daughter to become queen.

This week, Parliament ratified the appointment of Nepal’s first-ever woman Chief Justice, which is all the more notable because she was not a token female candidate, but one known for wise, courageous and impartial judgements during her career. Nepal has a female President, and a woman Speaker of Parliament and Chief Justice (pictured). 

However, despite now having a smattering of women in high places and a numerical increase in their representation in the political sphere, we have yet to see a commensurate increase in their participation in governance. A recent BBC Media Action survey of gender and governance showed that while 72 per cent of men in a nationwide sample actively participated in politics, only 48 per cent of women have the opportunity to do so. The researchers  listed some reasons: cultural, social and religious barriers, poor education, and entrenched exclusion of women. It is not just women who are ostracised, even the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare had its allocation slashed from 0.29 per cent of the budget last year to 0.22 per cent — a telling indication of the lack of priority given by the overwhelmingly male powers that be. 

A massive out-migration of men for work abroad has depopulated Nepal of young males. By default, most local decision-making mechanisms are now in the hands of women, hence they need to be included in the political structure whenever village and district elections take place. 

Now that Bandana Rana has become the first Nepali to be elected a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in New York, our predominantly male rulers may want to remind themselves that it is not sufficient to merely guarantee equal treatment in the law. Women must be given an equal start and empowered for maximum participation. 

Social justice, development and peace require Nepali women to be on equal terms with Nepali men in all fields.

Read Also:

Holding up half the district, Kunda Dixit

We shall overcome, Rubeena D Shrestha

Class struggle

Living in fear, Tsering Dolker

Land of our daughters, Editorial

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