TOPICS : Laws a barrier to women’s empowerment

Akanshya Shah:

Ten years after the UN’s Beijing Conference laid down goals to end discrimination against women worldwide, women activists claim that Nepal is nowhere near meeting the international standards set in 1995. No wonder, the cases of domestic violence and public harassment against women are increasing in the courts and there is mounting pressure among the NGOs working for women’s right in Nepal. It is unfortunate that even in the year 2005 Nepali women are still reeling under discriminatory laws and violence-prone society.

This then calls for a revision of all old laws and provisions relating to protection of women’s rights in this country. In this regard, the Beijing +10 review meet held in New York from February 28 to March 11 rightly suggested that the governments should adopt “integrated approach to end discrimination against women.” This would require reviewing existing laws at home that would bring forth “preventive measures” and take initiative to address various problems facing women like forced prostitution, cultural violence, witchcraft system. Though many NGOs and some leading INGOs have put in a lot of efforts to raise awareness in the remote corners of Nepal to end violence against women, and the donor agencies have been giving money for the purpose, unfortunately concrete outcome is yet to materialise.

This, in case of Nepal, can be attributed to a lot of factors. Given the insecure socio-political situation of the country, the concerned government departments and women activists cannot reach out to the poor women folks living in far-flung areas. Due to the Maoists’ atrocities, the majority of men have either fled their villages or have been killed with the women left to look after their families. This then bars women from going to schools or joining some vocational training programme run by district level women welfare committees.

Though the literacy rate among Nepali women is disturbingly high, but even out of the literate ones, only a few participate in the mainstream governance, foreign affairs or technical fields. Alarming still is the lack of women participation in politics and science and technology. “At a time when there is already a need to empower women for e-governance, in Nepal the government is still grappling with the socio-economic and cultural barriers,” said Ms. Seow Yoke May, Webmaster, UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, commenting on women and e-governance in Nepal at a recent interaction programme held in Kathmandu. It was identified in the seminar that girls are kept away from the access to information technology right from the birth.

Ms Jayalakshmi Chittoor, a communication specialist from India rightly said during the same interaction, “Until women come out of the fear of technology and are provided conducive atmosphere for it, they cannot advance in the field of information technology.” The UN Human Development Index report 2004 identified poor status of Nepali women due to insensitive policies of the government(s). It is for the State and the women organisations to now chart a new framework for empowerment of Nepali women. Given the opportunity, women can overcome the new challenges facing them in this 21st century.