Nepali Times Asian Paints
Editorial
Half the sky



KUNDA DIXIT

The real revolution that has swept Nepal in the past 12 years is not of the political kind. It is the dramatic strides this country has taken in women's empowerment.

Across Nepal on village trails, along highways, amidst the ripening terraces of wheat at 9.30 every morning you see something that you seldom saw 15 years ago: long lines of uniformed girls carrying books, going to school holding the hands of their little sisters.

The value placed by their parents on education, the enormous social pressure for literacy lies at the heart of Nepal's current transformation. Rising female literacy is the main factor leading to improvements in the whole spectrum of development parameters: reduction in the percentage of child marriages, better mother and child survival rates.

Nepal's under one infant mortality rate has gone down by half to 50 per 1,000 live births since 1990. Maternal mortality has come down by 40 percent in the same period. Nepal's birth rate is down to 3.3 from 5.2 in 1970.

All this did not happen by chance, and it did not happen overnight. It was the direct result of the priority given by successive governments since 1990 to education for girls. Time and again it has been proven across the developing world that the best return on investment comes when you spend money on female literacy. There is direct correlation between girls' education and higher living standards of families.

In Nepal, what is surprising is that gains in health and education have happened despite bad governance, corruption and a devastating ten-year conflict. We like to bad mouth the post-1990 democracy period, but it was the accountability of elected officials at the VDC and DDC levels that improved health and education at the grassroots.

To be sure, there are formidable challenges ahead. The child marriage rate is still a high 60 percent in rural areas. Despite rapid strides in literacy, more than half of Nepali women still can't read or write. There are pockets of Nepal, especially in the eastern tarai and western hills, where the maternal mortality rate is as bad as sub-Saharan Africa.

Crime against women and domestic violence has seen a worrying rise, possibly because of the prolonged absence of family members due to migration as well as the greater assertiveness of educated young women ('No safer', #388). There are tens of thousands of women who head households because their male readwinners were killed, disappeared or injured during the war.

The health problems of Nepal are not just a medical issue, but a direct result of the low status of women in society, as we learn from our special International Women's Day coverage (p 10-11).

With the greater participation of women in decision-making and their involvement in the elections to a constituent assembly, Nepal has an opportunity to finally bestow on half its population the justice that it has been denied for centuries.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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