political, socio-economical and legal status of women in South Asia ?
The political participation of women in the world seems relatively low and it is duly because of the existence of the patriarchal mindset even in the political parties in almost all countries in the world no matter how advanced and socially, economically
In the world even though women are the major founders of the society, yet women have not achieved equality with men. Of the world’s 1.3 billion poor people, it is estimated that nearly 70 per cent are women. Between 75 and 80 per cent of the world’s 27 million refugees are women. There are many countries where women are second-class citizens. No matter how talented they are, they never get a chance to develop. A lot of countries are there where women are treated as subordinate and second class citizen, though the equal rights is preserved in the constitution.
The political participation of women in the world seems relatively low and it is duly because of the existence of the patriarchal mindset even in the political parties in almost all countries in the world no matter how advanced and socially, economically, culturally and politically sound the countries are. The participation of women in parliament of Japan and USA is only 7.1% and 17% respectively. While in the countries like Rwanda it’s 49% and in Sweden it’s 46%.
The status of women in the developed countries is also lower in all sectors. Leaving some exceptions of European, American and Asian countries, women in the world are socially, economically, culturally and politically dominated and they are excluded from the opportunities. Throughout the world, women face violence every day. From the battlefield to the bedroom, women are at risk from violence in all areas of life. Violence against women persists because of society canopy. Virtually every culture in the world contains forms of violence against women that are often invisible because they are seen as normal or acceptable. The underlying cause of violence against women lies in gender discrimination – the denial of women’s equality with men in all areas of life.
Women in South Asia
South Asian countries are primarily linked with the status of women in family, society and the state structures. Traditional ethical code of the society expects women to remain restricted within four walls of home, which is still a common occurrence. In some of the countries of South Asia women are outlawed even to cast votes. In South Asian region, women are discriminated, because of son preference traditions of the society dominated by religious beliefs.
Daughters are discriminated from birth to funeral ceremony. Women are also suffering from domestic violence, wrong tradition and cultural malpractices. Some awful examples of violence are: sex selective abortion, wife battering, child marriage, polygamy, rape, sexual violence, trafficking of women & forced prostitution, sexual harassment, dowry, Tilak system, suicide, killings, and domestic violence, still prevailed. They are still accused in the name of Witchcraft.
Women in South Asian countries are witnessing changes through development initiatives. Women are considered as poor people in developing countries, live under the same conditions as men, but suffer additional social and policy biases. Though this problem affects almost all sections of the people, women are recognized to be among the most disadvantaged groups. Political participation of women in the state structure and mechanisms is still a far dream even in this advanced century. Though, constitutions of all the countries have ensured equal status of all citizens without discrimination based on gender in every layers of governance, political participation of women in South Asian countries is very low. The decision and policy level
positions are remains occupied and dominated by males majority of them with the patriarchal psyche.
Status of women in Nepal
Nepal, a Himalayan country situated in South Asia, is one of the poor countries of the world. Major reason behind this is the political instability and undemocratic rule for long. Other crucial factors for being the country very poor are due to lack of awareness and access to quality education. As a result, people have superstitious beliefs, there is gender discrimination, and political leaders have decreased political vision. The socio-economic status of women in Nepal is very poor. The women are being discriminated in every aspect of the society. These and so many other factors have contributed to turn Nepal a lower human development state.
Nepal is a country of great geographic, cultural, ethnic, religious diversity. Across the diversity, the majority of communities in Nepal are patriarchal. A women’s life is strongly influenced by her father, husband and son. Such patriarchal practices are further reinforced by the legal system. Marriage has a great importance in women’ life. The event of marriage determines the way of her life. The early marriage generally depreciates the women’s life. A woman’s power to accept or reject marriage partner is evidently an index of the degree of freedom she exercises in the management of her own life, and thus also of her status. The status of women is determined by the patriarchal social system, values, and women’s right preserved and protected by the state, and state policy for the development of women.
Women’s relative status, however, varied from one ethnic group to another. The economic contribution of women is substantial, but largely unnoticed because their traditional role was taken as for granted.
Empirical data have proved that situation of Nepalese women is too severe to compare with men. Woman’s situation is very poor in health, education, participation, income generation, self-confidence, decision-making, access to policymaking, and human rights. The insurgency for more than 10 years between the State and the rebel has further widened this gap.
The health status of Nepal’s people is one of the lowest in the South Asian region and this is particularly true for females. Nepal is one of the countries of the world where life expectancy for women is lower than that of men. One fifth of women get married in the early age of 15-19. As a result of their premature pregnancy the deaths of women have been occurring in a very high. High birth rates, low life expectancy, high infant and maternal mortality rates and high death rate indicate the poor health status of women.
National statistics shows that women’s literacy rate is 30 percent while 66percent to male and the national literacy rate is projected as 40 percent. The enrollment of women in higher education is only 24.95 percent. Women’ involvement in technical and vocational education is also lower than men. This is due to the social norms and culture that we follow also. As in rural areas girls are considered as “paraya dhan”(others property) and they don’t get the opportunity to get education.
A large part of women’s work is not considered as economic activity. As a result only 45.2 per cent of women as compared to 68.2 per cent of men are classified as economically active. Women’s average work burden has increased slightly over the past 12 years from 10.8 hours per day in 1981 to 10.9 hours per day in 1995. Men’s average work burden presently is 7.8 hours a day, 3.1 hours less than that of women. Women’s participation in the informal sector has increased significantly in both urban and rural areas – for example vending, petty trade liquor making and vegetable selling are some of the more common employment ventures of women. In rural areas, the employment outside the household generally was limited to planting, weeding, and harvesting. In urban areas, they were employed in domestic and traditional jobs, as well as in the government sector and mostly in low-level positions.
There are very few women working in professional work in Nepal. They may study the law, but few are able to enter the profession. Women’s representation in the bureaucracy is also very low. Only one woman so far has served as ambassador. After 1991 not a single woman has been placed in the diplomatic corps. Limited participation in politics, bureaucracy and judiciary does not stop women from making a remarkable contribution in the decision-making process at the household level. Women serve as decision-makers in farm management, domestic expenditure (food items, clothes and other expenses), the children’s education, religious and social travel, household maintenance and also capital transactions. However, women’s decision-making roles seem to have declined in recent years.
Although some 42 percent of the Nepalese women are literate, and 60 percent of them are said to be economically active (CBS, 2003), participation of women in politics is negligible. Women excluded economically, socially and politically in Nepal. Those women who are in the frontline and may be working in high profile may be benefited, but they are very few and their voice is rarely heard.
Violence against Women
In Nepal, the violence against women is rampant. Several research projects in Nepal have indicated that 66 percent of women have endured verbal abuse, 33 percent emotional abuse, while 77 percent of the perpetrators were family members (UNICEF 2001). Violence against women is happening day by day but the government and the other civil society members are doing their best but still there is plenty of room to work and control the forms of violence against women. The violence against women in politics is also rampant but we are unaware or the cases have not been come out in the realm of violence against women due to its ignorance. And, even the political leaders are unaware whether the violence happening in political parties to women leaders is duly the violence against women in politics.
Women in Politics
In Nepal, people were greatly influenced by different freedom struggles. They rose against the Rana regime. Women like Mangala Devi Singh, Sahana Pradhan started coming together, and from 1947 until 1952, several women’s organizations were born to raise the political and social consciousness among women in Nepal. In 1960, the king of Nepal subverted the democratic Panchayat system to an autocratic one. This put a sudden end to all associations and their activities. Women, however, remained politically active. In protest against the undemocratic royal proclamation of 1960, a group of women organizations openly waved black flags in a public procession, and were imprisoned. Later, in the people’s movement of 1990, women actively participated to get rid of the autocratic Panchayat system and to usher in multiparty democratic system. Women of various regions and ideologies contributed greatly to the success of this movement.
The participation and contribution of women in the people’s movement of 2006 and movements for the freedom from long run was very high. However, there is very low participation of women at decision making of all sectors.
Historically, women leaders in Nepal have equally contributed to establish democratic processes in Nepal. Some noted women leaders in Nepal who challenged the conventional tradition are Mangaladevi Singh, Shalilaja Acharya, Sahana Pradhan, Asta Laxmi Shakya, Others eminent leaders especially from the Peoples’ Movement II have been Chhaya devi Parajuli and others.
While we talk about the women’s participation in politics, the common and general answer constitutes as the root cause in poverty and lack of education indeed. The state policy is the most important factor that contributes and ensures to the increased-participation of women at the state mechanism. The important issue is to increase the participation of women and pro-women-male at policy making bodies and lawmakers. The sources of women representation at lawmaking and state bodies are political parties.
The participation of women in the people’s movement (April movement of 2006) was very high and indeed encouraging. There is no doubt that both men and women contributed equally in people’s movement and protection and promotion of human rights, good governance and sustainable peace. However, men only fulfil the state positions. Nepali women have made significant contributions for the democratic processes in Nepal. However, discrimination against women still exists even within the politics. Women face hegemonic character from their male counterparts. They have always been kept away from the decision making roles.
Facts on Woman’s Situation in Politics
Only 32 women have been Members of Parliament after restoration of democracy (1990). Till now, the provision for woman representatives in the National Assembly and House of Representatives is only 3% and 5%, respectively.
Not more than three members have been women so far in the central committees of the national parties like Nepali Congress, CPN (UML) and RPP. The political parties have not adopted the 33 % reservation seats for women in their manifestos.
There were only two women in the special class which totalled 85 seats of Nepalese civil service some five years ago, occupied all the remaining seats by men.
Even in the third class posts, which totalled 7,418 seats, women occupied only eight percent.
Negligible nomination or representation of women found in constitutional bodies, task forces, and organizations.
The conservative feeling that women should not involve in politics is still prevailed in the Nepalese society.
After the restoration of democracy in 1990, only 32 women elected as the Members of Parliaments (MPs). In general, election of 1999, which was the third election held after the restoration of democracy (1999), only 12 women out of 205 seats that is hardly six percent elected as Member of the House of Representatives. The newly reinstated parliament has declared 33 percent seats as the reservation for women. Nevertheless, there is no any action plan for its proper implementation for women who occupy more than half (50.1%) ofthe total population of Nepal. Few women elected to executive positions in local election; only 289 seats of the 3993 wards returned women chairpersons in the last election for VDCs and municipalities. There was not any woman has so far been elected as mayor, deputy mayor or DDC chairperson. There was not any women representative in constitution making body in 1991 and very few in interim constitution draft committee in 2006 after the struggle of women rights activists.
Women less represented in political parties as well. Not more than 3 to 5 members have been women so far in the central committees of the national parties and other political parties. There were only two women in the special class, which totalled 85 seats of Nepalese civil service some five years ago, occupied all the remaining seats by men. Even in the third class posts, which totalled 7,418 seats, women occupied only eight percent.
The participation of women in politics seems insufficient for decision making levels representation. The participation of women in the people’s movement (April movement of 2006) was very high and indeed encouraging. But the interim constitution ensured only 33% women participation in candidacy (process) and not in the result, though the spirit of proportional representation is expressed in the constitution. When constituting the constitution, the political parties almost forgot the contribution of women made at the movement.
Constituent Assembly, A Historic Achievement
Nepal has entered a new political milieu with the successful completion of the Constitution Assembly (CA) election. CA election is itself a triumph in Nepali history; its significant achievement lays in electing 197 women members, which is almost 33 percent of the total seats. These women members have come from the diverse ethnic cultures, tradition, group and geographical areas. They represent the grassroots level, district and national level. We all are honored with the victory of women candidates. Their participation in Constituent Assembly will definitely bring meaningful and remarkable contribution for establishing equal and just society. We are hopeful that the victorious women will take part meaningfully in making our People’s Constitution through gender perspective considerations.
In first ever republic government set after CA elections, the political parties have disappointed in representing women ministers as they declined to bring the proportionate representation of women. The male ministers’ domination is 83.33% on 16.67% female representation. Out of 6 parties of the government, none of the political parties could come in equal basis in representing women ministers.
At present in the Nepalese society, to address all these issues, women organizations and women themselves have been strongly advocating and lobby for maximum women participation at all levels of state mechanisms. As a result recent Constitutional Assembly election has ensured almost 33% women representation. This is a major achievement in the history of Nepal as well as entire South Asian region. However, Nepalese women holding more than 50 percent population in the total census should not be satisfied with this result. They must strive and fight for ensuring 50% proportional and meaningful representation of women at all level. Also, these women CA members have different challenges ahead, for which they need support and collaboration from all the members of civil society as well as political parties.
There has been change in cultural assumptions about women and leadership in Nepal. But, still women political figures had difficulty gaining a hearing or respect for their ideas, were tied to ‘female issues’ and were perceived as not capable of wining elections. The issues raised by women are treated as ‘Women’s issue’ and not as issues of state. Women serving as ministers, professors, civil society leaders and all have demonstrated
their competencies as leaders to the public. All those constitute opportunities for the public to see female leadership. But as a result of patriarchal thought, still the political positions are not given to the women in political parties and state mechanisms.
A decade long insurgency and the king’s autocratic regime made Nepalese people vulnerable to gross human rights violations. The gross and rampant violation of human rights seemed to be fate of the Nepalese people during that period. Women are also expecting the change in the situation, and now they believe to be behaved like equal citizen as of males. The discrimination and injustice will end in the days to come. The 197 women are given opportunity and this opportunity may result the system development in Nepal regarding women’s representation and participation. But, we need to work a lot to back up and feed them with the women’s issue.
No control of women leaders over the state mechanism
Lack of opportunities and access and control over resources
Difficulties to manage the time for political participation
Challenges to be updated on human rights, inclusive democracy and women empowerment issues including international treaties, and provisions etc.
Challenges to cope the barriers of cultural values and practices that are firmly entrenched in systems and structures of society.
Patriarchal structure of society hinders women’s social, cultural, economic and political participation.
Challenges to upgrade and raise the illiteracy rate of women in Nepal, which severely limits women’s participation in politics.
Rampant poverty, illiteracy, ill health, gender, caste discrimination, political conflict and religious fundamentalism.
Rampant Violence against women limits interest and active involvement in political activities.
Families regard female members as weak and in need of protection throughout their lives and women who interact outside prescribed relations are viewed with suspicion of contempt, thus the challenges to overcome such concept.
Unhealthy power relationship.
In a strongly patriarchal society, women leaders have served and are serving the nation being at the decision level successfully on their visions and that has already established the capabilities of women leaders. Similarly, women’s political, social, cultural and economic awareness level have been gradually developing which is truly a good sign for overall development of women.
Some prominent women leaders became successful to hold the power and their tenure seems relatively successful.
For the first time in the history of Nepal, women’s (191 + 6), 32.77 % representation has been ensured in constituent assembly. However, there is still room to work for ensuring women’s equal participation rights at all state mechanisms. There 197 women CA members are the representatives of all Nepalese, people especially the diverse group of women.
Conclusion and Recommendation:
We all know that democratic institutions evolve with vision, hard work and foresight of wise leaders – and leadership is not created overnight. People brought in for emotional reasons interrupt and halt the democratic process, and at times have easily undermined democratic institutions. The quest, and consequent, lust for power is not leadership indeed. Corruption and insatiable ambition are the hallmark of many a leader in region and even women leaders could not free from it.
Thus, women leaders need to change this record of political playing and they have to be more visionary by being involved in political participation and lobbying for maximum participation of women in politics. A lot of women leaders have such capabilities and they are waiting for the opportunity indeed. There are many women leaders who are talented and politically gifted to enter into the political arena but an encouraging environment should be created. Lack of proper life skill training for women’s empowerment and awareness is required unless the women are educated they cannot come forward so informal education needs to be focused. The women need to know about their rights and more work needs to be made on it.
The major issue of women, we have to consider is women are affected differently in war, violent conflict and any human rights violation cases. There is always the cost the women pay is very high in comparison to men in any situation. However, the contribution of women always neglected. The issue of women not addressed in the conflict transformation process. There is a need of women’s struggle to break the patriarchal thought, and increase the women’s share in governance and political leadership. The concept on women as weaker-sex and subordinate to the man can be changed through the involvement of women in decision making level at politics, and working in the area where there is more man involvement such as army. So, to generate the strength of women movement for making just society, women organizations and activities have to unite and build solidarity to fight against all kinds of discrimination and promoting women in politics, and state governance.
Socially and economically men are always considered as superior to women, breadwinner, head of the family and the care taker and this is major cause for the low participation of women in civil services in Nepal is in the transitional phase even though women are participating in the political field but it is not up to the level. In order to change the status of women in Nepal socio-cultural change is required which takes a lot of time.