"I use to buy products in the store established by Laligurans Women Skill Development Centre to be sold from my shopping complex simply because these products are purely local hand made using local resources..."
> Narayan Khanal, Himalay Art and Craft
"I always prefer to buy goods produced by LWSDC because I can have many choices in size, colour, environment friendly etc."
> Subash Nepal, S.N. Women Skill Development Project.
"I know the quality of the goods produced by LWSDC better than the goods available other places. I also want to help women from difficult circumstance."
> Shova Dakal, Saugat Handicraft
The UN (1995) defines the status of women in the context of their access to knowledge, economic resources and political power as well as their personal autonomy in the process of decision-making. When Nepalese women's status is analysed in this light, the picture is generally bleak. In Nepal, the proportion of women involved autonomously in social and public activities is extremely less. Women are underprivileged, underrepresented and exploited in all spheres of society. Socio-cultural, political, economic and educational factors have forced them to live subjugation by men.
Nepal’s cultural landscape is recklessly diverse and is composed of more than 125 dialects speaking groups and sub-groups. They are divided mainly into two major groups on the basis of language and socio-cultural practices, i.e. Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman. The politically and culturally predominant Indo-Aryan group mostly lives in the hills and Terai.
In terms of attitudes towards women, there are some conservative communities in Indo-Aryan group, which do not allow women to move freely outside the household. Wom en wear purdah (veil) and they may not mix openly with the opposite sex. Although other sub-groups within the Indo-Aryan culture do not necessarily practise purdah. Sexual purity of women is extremely important for Indo-Aryan group. Child marriage, a restriction on widows remarrying and arranged marriages are still followed widely (Acharya et al. 1981). Property is inherited only through male line and therefore women’s economic status both in the household and in the workplaces is lower than that of men.
The Tibeto-Burman group live in the hills and the mountain regions. In contrast to general practice in the Indo-Aryan group, women from this group have relative freedom. They have freedom in their choice of marriage partners, premarital sexual relations and social mixing. Child marriages are rarer. Women also engage in outdoor income-generating activities and business however their contributions to the household and national economy is yet to be recognised by the economic yardsticks.
In spite of this cultural diversity, land resource is universally inherited in all communities from father to son with women lagging far behind men in terms of access to knowledge, economic resources and modern avenues of employment. These clearly indicate that women in both groups of society and culture are deprived in all social spheres and restricted to household activities.
Across the cultural diversity, the majority of communities in Nepal are patriarchal – a women’s life is strongly influenced by her father and husband – as reflected in the practice of patrilocal residence, patriarchal descent and by inheritance systems and family relations. Such patriarchal practices are further reinforced by the legal system. Marriage has an overwhelming importance in a woman’s life. The event of marriage determines almost all her life options and subsequent livelihood. According to the predominant Hindu tradition, marriage is essential for all whether man or woman. While a man’s life is not considered complete without a wife, a woman has no option but to marry. Early marriages are rooted on both the concept of purity of the female body and the need for helping hands in farm and households. The traditional concern over the purity of women’s body limits female’s mobility. Marriage is understood as a social contract between two clans rather than the personal affairs of the bride and groom. In addition polygyny, though outlawed can still be observed especially in the rural areas of the Terai.
The socio-culturally constructed son preference and dowry system also look at women from minus lens in Nepal. The idea that women can achieve salvation only through sons compels them to marry at an early age and couples to breed as many sons as possible. Consequently there are high rate of child marriage and pregnancy among adolescent women. The heavy burden of pregnancy and childcare at early age seriously limit female’s chances to receive education and confine women’s role within the household as wives and mothers. It also hinders women’s participation in decision-making and politics. The dowry system also creates serious barriers for women. Many young women are mentally and physically tortured by their husbands, in-laws and others by arguing of insufficient dowry from their parents.
The Nepalese economy is still predominantly subsistence agriculture with 86 per cent of the total population living in rural areas and 81 per cent deriving their livelihoods from agriculture. National agricultural productivity is low although it accounts approximately 60 per cent of GDP and 75 per cent of exports.
Nepalese women bear great burden in household chores and agricultural activities. A study of rural women’s work burden reveals that women contribute 74 per cent of the labour input to subsistence economic activities and 86 per cent of input to social and domestic work. Statistics show that rural women’s total work burden is extremely high that at an average of 11.44 hours per day in contrast to 8.34 hours per day for men (Acharya et al. 1981). Women work relatively harder than the men. Production in the absence of women's participation is beyond imagination. Women reserve the grain, look after the livestock, grow vegetables, transplant crop saplings at the start of the plantation season and then again reap, thresh and clean the harvest. Such activities are not restricted to the village economy alone, they are also equally involved in the development works. They also play significant role in national economy. They currently constitute approximately 40 per cent of the total work force in the country. However, women occupy the low status jobs and are paid less than men. The 1991 population census report shows that women still lag far behind men in high status jobs.
The Nepal’s political structure underwent a fundamental change in 1990s. The *Panchayat system with an absolute monarch as the head of the state gave way to a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. The 1990 constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, caste, sex, race and religion. It also guarantees equal treatment before the law and judiciary and equal pay to men and women similar work without any disparities. The rhetoric of constitution has provided spaces for women to (re)gain their rights. Nevertheless, women are still under-scored and underrepresented at all spheres in society.
The law is also biased against female, which disinherits married women from parental property and frees her from the responsibility to take care of their households. Under the restrictive codes of female conduct, women’s mobility is much constrained so as their education opportunities and their freedom on political participation. As a whole women are discouraged to bargain with their male counterparts as they are deprived of the resource which safeguard themselves in case of divorce. Gender discrimination prevents women from airing their voices in the event of unjust treatment. Furthermore, it hinders women from equal participation with men in all level of life.
The law also offers little protection to women upon divorce. If a wife has taken divorce from her husband for his reason and if she has no other means for her living, her husband has to bear her daily expenditure in according to his status and earning. Such expenditure is provided to her for five years after divorce from her husband do not get any portion of her husband’s property so as those who live separately from their husbands. Under such circumstances, divorced women not only have no right to claim her husband’s property but also have no legal entitlement to their father’s property. In actuality, there is strong social stigma attached to divorce women especially within their parents and husbands, they run into the risk of losing these vital connection on disgrace to their natal family as well as it will be difficult to re-marry in conservative rural communities. The cultural and legal system effectively supports the status quo by suppressing any apparent conflict between husband and wife. Hence, the issue of gender inequality remains submerged and unchallenged in the household.
*The Panchayat system is single party system established by the late King Mahendra of Nepal in the decade of 1960s.
Poverty is endemic in Nepal. According to the National Planning Commission, 40.3 per cent of the population in 1998/99 were below poverty line and the number of women living below the poverty line is much higher. Based on the Nepal Human Development Report (1998), it is estimated that 48 per cent of women are living below the poverty line. It reveals the fact that poverty is not gender neutral in Nepalese socio-economic context and has affected women more than men.
The reason behind greater extent of poverty among women is the pervasive disparity between women and men in all aspects of development indicators. Women have less access to education, health services, credit facilities and productive employment opportunities. Similarly, women have limited access to economic resources. The absolute number of poor has increased in the rural areas. As gender disparity in rural areas is much more severe and rural women are much more deprived, increasing number of poor in rural areas implies further feminisation of poverty. Due to built-in inequities of the existing economic system the micro impact of macro policies have hardly helped the poor women. Lack of access to resources is the fundamental factor for women's greater deprivation. Absence of property rights has adversely affected poor women from creating self-employment and generating independent income.
The major women and poverty issues are related to the various socio-economic factors. Persistent patriarchal attitudes and practices are detrimental to women and hinder their empowerment. Social discriminations against women have caused feminisation of poverty. Land distribution, population blooming and determining terms of trade and structural adjustment programme imposed by the IMF in the 1980s have also the significant impact on the livelihood of rural women. Other reasons for feminisation of poverty are; failure of macroeconomic policies to address women poverty at the grass-roots level and the negative trickle-down effect, lack of good governance, slow processes of reaching women living in the rural areas, poor mainstreaming of credit programmes for women through both public and NGO sectors, low participation of women in the formal sector, women's employment mostly in the informal sector as unskilled and low-paid workers and exploitation of women due to heavy household as well as farm work load.
Poverty alleviation has been the priority of the government in the last decade and in the latter part of it the women are the focus of poverty alleviation programmes at the grassroots level. Rural women are made the primary group for micro-credit programmes and saving-credit activities. However, the women poverty is deeply widening further. Furthermore, Government interventions are mainly based on the conventional approaches of utilising women's spare time for the economic benefit of the family.
Nepal is facing colossal environmental problems. Despite various efforts, the state of environment in Nepal has degraded due to higher dependency on natural resources and higher population growth. The problems of landslide, soil erosion, flood, decline in agricultural production and deforestation still exists in villages while air pollution and solid waste management problem is increasing in the urban areas day by day.
Women are often most sensitive to changes in the environment because they are in closest contact with the home and the land; they are the first line of defence. Survival of women and their families is closely linked to the health of the land, forests, fisheries and other natural resources. There is strong evidence of the irrevocable damage caused by environmental assaults during various stages of the life cycle. Women are therefore the first one to be affected in any change in the environment whether the changes are negative or positive. The relationship between women and environment in the soci-economic context of rural communities has not been properly understood by either the government or NGOs so as to tackle the problems and needs of the rural poor and at the same time make such programs more women friendly and engendered.
Women as consumers and producers, caretakers of their family and educators are the most affected from the adverse effects of environmental degradation. Thus, women have an essential role to play in the area of environmental conservation. The issue of women, environment and development is now being recognised in some areas but does not yet feature as the prime focus of the government programme. They have remained absent at all levels of policy formulation and decision making in natural resource and environmental management, conservation, protection and rehabilitation. Realising the gravity of this state of affair HMG since its Eighth Plan initiated some programmes that addressed the problems faced in the sector of women and environment. Nevertheless, these programmes have not been adequate for reaching out to the masses of women at the village level.
As it is clear from foregoing discussion that Nepal ranks in the poorest country in the world. Another problem that Nepal is adversely facing is in providing literacy to its huge rural mass living in the rural areas. Towards the eradication of illiteracy, the planners and educators of Nepal are experiencing with the challenges of devising a relevant and effective literacy programme in the conformity with the needs and realities of rural people. One of the main reasons for the persistence of illiteracy is the lack of opportunity for women to attend primary school as well as literacy classes. According to the NHDR (1998), the literacy rate of male is 52.2 per cent whereas that of women is only 24.4 per cent. The following figures show the literacy situation in Nepal.