Nepal | January 24, 2020

IWD 2019: We Speak

Priyanka Adhikari

KATHMANDU: The 109th International Women’s Day (IWD) is being marked all over the country today by carrying out various programmes to celebrate women, their roles in and contribution to society.

‘Common Thinking and Equal Treatment for Gender Equality: Basis for Prosperity’ is the slogan for this year’s Women’s Day. IWD is observed on March 8 every year.

First celebrated in 1911, the UN in 1977 proclaimed March 8 as the International Women’s Day. #BalanceforBetter is the international campaign theme for IWD, 2019.

THT Online reached out to some women from various walks of life, today, to understand their take on the Day and its relevance to and impact on various social issues connected to women.

Talking to these women, who are representative of the gender in various fields, THT Online sought to understand the perception of various representative women regarding the change in status of Nepali women through various phases in terms of socio-political changes, especially at a time when cases of sexual assault and violence against women are on the rise, and impunity rampant.

Also, these points of view come at the wake of the ongoing debate as to whether or not a child is eligible to receive citizenship through his/her mother. We talk about women empowerment, but in today’s day and age, shouldn’t this be an easy answer!

Here’s what they had to say.

Deepti Gurung, Activist

Every year Women’s Day comes and goes. For me when the calendar turns to March, I feel a stone in my heart. Honestly, I keep repeating in my head and try to understand what this day appears to seem outside and what it really feels within. I bleed in my heart when the state, very carefully, tries to cover up our voices by planning or diverting towards other issues. On the contrary, I feel, on this day the state must list out things that have not been addressed to date.

For example, we have not been able to establish equality on citizenship rights yet. Secondly, we have still not been able to abolish chhaupadi. And thirdly, we have done very little, in the rise of violence against women including cases of rape, among others. Despite these, the state thinks we are in a position to celebrate this day. We do not deserve this day till we establish equality first, including the most fundamental rights as citizenship.

To me, we are still in a very dark age in history. I am waiting for the day when the state finally recognises women as equal to men, in the real sense, when the state finally treats MY decision with the same respect as it does a man’s. When my daughters do not have to wait and tolerate every violence and injustice inflicted upon them in barter of citizenship for their children through her spouse. No roses, perfumes, or chocolates will equal to the joy when we finally achieve that. Hence this year too, Women’s Day isn’t for me, unless I see, feel, and taste equality in citizenship rights! Until then…we keep walking!

Anna Gautam, Feminist

Women fought the war alongside men, women took the streets alongside men, women demanded democracy alongside men. Women demanded their representation in the parliament and in elected offices. Women demanded they be heard and seen in the public space. The Nepali state didn’t give us anything, we demanded them. Women earn alongside men, yet they come home to the kitchen to cook without the men. Women work alongside men, get paid less than men, yet come home to wash the dishes without the men. Celebrate today, celebrate what we’ve achieved but also, stay angry, stay unsatisfied, and stay alert because if the current citizenship issue signals us anything, it is that Nepali state is a sexist state.

Hima Bista, Executive Director, Women Lead

The very fact that Nepali women have to march on the street with banners indicates that they, till date, remain a second class citizen. The fact remains that male privileges are normalised while Nepali women have to come out with slogans to convince that “they are unequal”. International Women’s Day has to be celebrated to bring out the naked truth of “Tokenistic Approach” when it comes to ensuring women’s rights as basic human rights, as stated in the Constitution of Nepal.

Shiwani Neupane, Novelist

I see two parts to IWD. One, a celebration of all the incredible women in our lives, a celebration of how far we have come with equality and rights. In the last few decades (so recent!), women in Nepal have got equal inheritance rights, reproductive rights, seats in the parliament, decriminalisation of abortion, laws against marital rape, and so much more. Madam Sapana Pradhan Malla is behind most of these laws and she is my hero every Women’s Day.

On the other side, Women’s Day is a stark reminder that we are not equal. Women still cannot pass citizenship to their children without if’s and but’s, chhaupadi is still practised, causing the death of many girls and women (regardless of criminalisation), and the list goes on and on. It boils my blood to see our bodies being treated as mere tools for reproduction and our identities squashed under the pretence of security.

Unfortunately, whether it is through revolutions or war, our bodies have always been a battlefield for ideologies. However, I am hopeful. Nepal has time and again shown progress and I believe it is a matter of time before this insecure, pathetic clause on citizenship is amended. I look forward to celebrating that day very much. Then in a series of micro-goals and wins, I hope we reach a time we don’t need International Women’s Day at all!

Saabitri Gautam, Feminist

The relevance of International Women’s Day is always present, as an honour to women who have contributed in bringing us this far. I believe there has also been an impact through the marking of this day that celebrates women. Newspapers and magazines, which used to only publish three to four articles on women have started taking out special editions. Debates on women and women related issues are on the rise.

There have been some works with positive outcomes. Right to vote, scholarships to girls, provision of proportional representation and some job benefits are owing to these revolutionary phases. There were only five per cent women lawmakers in 2046 BS, which later increased to 33 per cent in 2063 BS. Later, women parliamentarians carried out a protest for lack of inclusiveness and there being not one woman in the constitution draft committee of 2062-63 BS. The contribution of political women in bringing about a change in the status of women is appreciable.

One year ago, I witnessed a debate on “economic empowerment of women” on Women’s Day in Rupa Rural Municipality in Kaski. I was amazed at how the women have empowered themselves economically and the way they spoke about it. In my opinion, despite the policymakers boosting patriarchy, common women have become quite aware and empowered. I believe, it is only a matter of time before the rights of women will materialise, on papers too. In all these, I think the relevance of IWD will always remain.

Rita Sah, Freelance Writer

The various political and social protests in the past have brought various kinds of changes in the status of Nepali women. The Constitution of Nepal considers the rights of women as fundamental rights. Women’s representation has also increased in the political sphere. Reach of women has also increased in the resources and decision-making process of the nation. Likewise, the social and economic status of women is also improving. Various kinds of discriminating laws of the past have either changed or are in the process of changing. However, women living in rural areas of Nepal, and those belonging to marginalised economic and social background have not been able to reap the benefits of the various provisions mentioned in the constitution. This remains a challenge.

Era Shrestha, Journalist (NHK)

Across the geographical, cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity of Nepal, majority of communities are still patriarchal; and the patriarchal practices are further strengthened by the legal system. Though women’s participation has increased in politics and other state mechanisms, there is still a long way to go. As we strive for gender equality, we have to constantly work together with men and engage them in discourse.

Pratistha Thapa, President ASMAN

Celebrating women’s day once a year might not seem relevant to many. It might not change anything overnight for anyone. However, it is important to understand that IWD is about celebrating womanhood, focusing on equality and eliminating gender-based discrimination. This women’s day, let’s ensure no girl child feels unsafe in her own house and no woman feels the fear of walking alone. Let’s work together to uplift each other and help break the glass ceilings. Let’s celebrate each other’s achievements and create a support system to help each other succeed.

Mohna Ansari, NHRC Commissioner

Nepali women’s rights movement has evolved over the years. To give us encouragement, we can count on several achievements such as guaranty of political representation, equal inheritance rights, legal reforms for protection from violence, and progressive laws like abortion law. In fact, there is a growing public awareness than before on women’s issues, and there are more men and women who are advocating for gender equality.

For example, the recent campaigns on the antiwomen trafficking, witchcraft, chhaupadi as well as justice for the rape victims have generated nationwide support. This is a sign of the changing public perception towards women’s issues in Nepal. Currently, equality in citizenship rights is a national debate and there is growing support for women’s equal rights.

Having said that, there are multiple challenges that Nepali women continue to face. There is a sharp increase in the incidents of sexual abuse, rape and violence against women in recent years. The women trafficking hasn’t stopped. Harmful practices, gender inequality, discrimination, poor social status, hindrance in accessing economic opportunity and denial of rights make the women vulnerable to violence. There are continued attempts to limit their political representation in symbolism rather than being in decision making positions. The challenges remain regarding the implementation of legal reforms and policies in practice. For example, the CDOs have refused to issue citizenship in mother’s name despite constitutional arrangement and court verdicts.

A critical challenge is to make the Nepali women’s movement more inclusive and diverse than what it has always been. We need to review whether women of Tharu, Muslim, Madheshi, Dalit, backward and poor communities, and those in remote rural areas are also benefitting the same as women of privileged groups by the Nepali women’s rights movement? Are they receiving dividends? Are they able to exercise the rights and protection from the revised laws? Do they have access to information, services and opportunities same as others? Are they being fairly represented? The answer is not.

The International Women’s Day provides us the opportunity to reflect on key achievements and the way forward in realising a society free of any kind of gender inequality and discrimination.

Aditi Aryal, Writer, Modern Diplomacy and Spotlight

It is easy to sing anthems on equality of sexes but when it comes to translating this into practice, we fall short. I demand an egalitarian society and I look up to strong women shattering glass ceilings, and breaking conventional shackles of stereotypes and ‘femininity’. IWD always remains a day we acknowledge all women who are fighting their fights, and the allies who support these battles unequivocally. Yet, IWD is also a reminder that we have a long way to march before women in our country can truly be empowered. We have not been able to break free from the bindings of patriarchy which remains deeply entrenched in us, starting from families and extending to the state. True equality is only possible with emancipation of women on economic, social, political, and cultural fronts. I do not see an alternative but radical change which is the need of the hour.

Manisha Lamsal, Student, #MeToo Activist

The International Women’s Day never fascinated me personally because we could not do much at the ground level. There are many tasks that need to be implemented to realise the construction of transformative space for many women at the margins. On the other hand, being a woman, the contribution and sacrifices made by my mother impacted me a lot though.

Before learning about the #MeToo, no woman from my family had participated directly in the ‘change-making process’ that could make a difference at personal or public levels. But I cannot overlook the collective efforts made by women in various struggles resulting in the courage I have now to say what is right and what cannot be tolerated and normalised.

Meanwhile, the encouragement of my mother, a few women writers/activists and their words played an essential role to help me speak out loud. This change and confidence is an everyday process and struggle. My thought is, the particular day can only be a day to remember and learn the process of change I have witnessed in my daily life and around the lives of those related. Not to generalise change or impact, but critically reflecting upon the change in privilege, power and status of all Nepali women could be another alternative. I hope this critical learning makes all human beings (not only women), especially those who are in power, more responsible for their actions for an itable society. I will always strive for a day when each and every woman’s lives and experiences are valued equally.

Rajina Shrestha, Stand-up comedienne

The freedom, voice, and power Nepali women are able to carry today are a gift from all the women who came before us. They paved the way for us to stand on and it’s on us to make it easier for the upcoming generation.

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