There have been positive indications towards empowering women and improving their status since the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015
The world, including Nepal, marked 110th International Women’s Day on Sunday in celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The theme for the International Women’s Day was ‘I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights’, and the various programmes that were organised to mark the day called for greater gender equality, elimination of gender discrimination and women’s empowerment. While the status of women has improved over the decades, there is a big divide between women living in the urban centres and the rural areas. In a country dominated by patriarchal traditions, women continue to lag behind their male counterparts in health, education, income and decision-making. Violence against women is not only widespread, it is also growing alarmingly, as documented by a recent human rights body, INSEC. However, there have been positive indications towards empowering women and improving their status since the promulgation of the new constitution.
The new constitution must be considered a landmark in ensuring the fundamental rights of women and in trying to guarantee 33 per cent representation in all three tiers of the government. Although the government and the political parties have faltered in implementing this constitutional provision at the federal and provincial levels, it is heartening to see fair representation of women in the 753 local levels (municipalities and Gaupalikas). The constitution has provisioned that either the head or the deputy head of the local levels should be a woman. As a result, almost 700 local governments have women deputy chiefs and the remaining even as chiefs. And since the deputy chief is the coordinator of the three-member judicial committees formed at the local level, it is the women who have assumed big responsibility in settling disputes there and also addressing issues related to gender discrimination and the like. The constitution has also made it mandatory to have a woman and a dalit woman among the members in the wards of the local levels.
There has been sea change in the way of looking at the female sex. Increasingly, both the government and the people are investing in the education and health of girls. The ‘Beti Bachau-Beti Padhau’ campaign is an insurance scheme to encourage girls’ education in Province 2. The programme is expected to stop child marriage and, hopefully, the dowry system. A similar scheme, ‘Bank Account for Daughters’, has been launched to ensure social justice for daughters in Karnali. The chhaupadi system, which forces menstruating women to spend their nights in a shed outside the home, will soon be history as the government has started a campaign to demolish all such structures. The Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Act of 2018 is a major step towards providing Nepal’s women and girls access to abortion care and other reproductive health services. While the constitution and a host of programmes promoted by the government have tried to empower women and ensure justice for girls, it is, however, education – and quality education – that will in the long run establish gender equality in society.
Enforce the law
People have not stopped smoking and chewing tobacco in public places although the Tobacco Product (Control and Regulatory) Act came into force some nine years ago. Most of the people, particularly those from the rural areas, do not know it is against the law and a punishable offence to smoke and chew tobacco in public places identified by the law. It is urgent for the country to reduce the mortality rate caused by the use of tobacco products. They do not follow the law because of laxity in enforcing the law.
In order to strictly enforce the law, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration (MoFAGA) on Friday issued a circular to all the local levels to display a notice prohibiting smoking and tobacco consumption in public places in response to a letter from the Health Tax Fund (HTF) under the Ministry of Health and Population. The HTF wrote to the MoFAGA to implement the legal provision after it received complaints about inaction by the local levels in imposing the ban on smoking and chewing of tobacco in public places. Any person or firm breaching the law is liable to a fine ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 100,000, depending on the nature of violation of the law.
A version of this article appears in print on March 09, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.