Nepal Gender Brief

Member Author: 
CARE Canada

Gender in Brief

Gender roles in Nepal vary with context, caste, ethnic group, religion, and socio-economic class. Overwhelmingly, the traditional family structures are grounded in beliefs that men have pre-eminence over women and respect for elders. Women and girls in Nepal are disadvantaged by traditional practices like the dowry system, early marriage, son-preference, stigmatization of widows, seclusion of women (purdah), family violence, polygamy, and the segregation of women and girls during menstruation (chhaupadi). Third-gender face a separate and specific set of gender inequality issues.  In recent years, there have been changes to improve the situation faced by women and girls. The post-conflict Government has been legislating for more gender equality: Nepal was the first country in Asia to develop a National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security in 2011 and women and girls’ rights are protected in the Comprehensive Peace Accord.

In Nepal a high-caste, educated women may have fewer opportunities to work outside the home than a rural Dalit woman for whom working outside the home may be more accepted. Women face an onerous triple burden. The economic contribution of women is substantial but largely unnoticed because their traditional role as caretaker is taken for granted. Nepalese woman have a much higher work-load than the global average[i]. Girls have the responsibility of helping their mothers with housework while men and boys are generally not expected to assist with domestic work. In general, women do not participate in decision-making for their families or communities which is a man’s responsibility.  Nepalese men are expected to an income and support their families although how they do that and the view of manhood will often be linked to caste. Due to increasing economic pressure, many Nepali men have lost their traditional occupations and have been forced to migrate to the cities or abroad in order to maintain their “breadwinner” role. As a result many of them face severely exploitative conditions that sometimes amount to forced labour. Boys are more likely to be educated as they are seen as the future family breadwinner while daughters leave home to live with their in-laws.  Almost half of the population gets married between the age of 14 to 19 years and dowry is a major driver of child marriage as well as a cause of violence against girls and women

There are gender differences in different communities and regions of Nepal. In more traditional Hindu communities in the Terai women’s roles tend to be more limited to domestic duties and subsistence farming while in Tibeto-Burman communities women tend to be more economically active. In matriarchal Tharu communities, gender roles and relations may be reversed with women as the leaders and men in a submissive even abused role. Marriage plays a decisive role in all women’s life choices and social-economic position[ii]. As women get older, their gender roles may change especially if they become the mother-in-law who is more able to make decisions and likely to have more freedoms than her daughter-in-law.

Although there has been improvement in women’s overall status including increases in the literacy rate, the challenges remain. Suicide is the single leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. The Maternal Mortality Rate is still among the highest in the world, (170 per 100,000 births)[iii]. According to an Amnesty International 2014 report Unnecessary Burden, it is estimated that more than 600,000 women suffer from conditions related to uterine prolepses due to early marriage, early pregnancy, overwork and neglect. Socio-cultural violence remains prevalent in various forms, including bonded labour, violence against women accused of witchcraft and chhaupadi[iv] in some parts of the region.  According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 12,000 women and children are trafficked to the Middle East and India every year, mainly for exploitation in brothels or as forced labor. The National Demographic Health Survey (2011) showed that, among women age 15-49, 22 percent had experienced physical violence and 12 percent had experienced sexual violence at least once since age 15. Among married women, one-third had experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence from their spouse, and 17 percent had experienced it within the 12 months immediately prior the survey. The most commonly reported perpetrator of physical violence among married women is their husband (84%). Factors such as a woman’s age, caste/ethnicity, wealth status, ecological zone, region and number of living children can all impact the degree to which she may experience spousal violence, with Muslim women generally experiencing the highest level (55%).[v] Rural women are more likely to have experienced physical violence (22%) than urban women (19%).

Nepal is a signatory to 23 treaties and International Human Rights instruments with the legal framework in Nepal largely supporting women’s rights and equality. The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 states “no physical, mental or any other form of violence shall be inflicted to any women, and such an act shall be punishable by Law.” Specific women’s rights are also enshrined in the Interim Constitution including the right against discrimination, the right to reproductive health, the right against physical, mental and other forms of violence, and equal right to property.[vi]  The Interim Constitution (2007) and the Election Act (2007) provide a substantive quota for women (33%) to be represented in the Constituent Assembly. Marital rape is included within the definition of rape and can be punished. However, despite progressive laws and a vibrant civil society, Nepal still has many challenges when it comes to translating these laws into action.

[i] Nepal Human Development Report 2004, UNDP

[ii]CARE Nepal Women Empowerment Program Framework 2010

[iii] Nepal Demographics Profile 2014-Mundi

[iv] A traditional practice of forced isolation where women and girls are confined to a kind of a cow-shed outside the house during their menstruation period, mostly practices in Fast Western Nepal

[v] Tuladhar, S., et. Al. 2013. 1Women's Empowerment and Spousal Violence in Relation to Health Outcomes in Nepal. Further Analysis of the 2011 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey.

[vi]Article 20 of the Interim Constitution 2007.