Efforts at Promotion
of Women in Nepal
Dr. Meena Acharya
I. Understanding the Gender Concepts: the
Framework for Analysis
This analysis takes a change in gender relations
as the primary objective of all policies, strategies and programs
directed at women's development. Women have always constituted
about half of the population and the fact that a society can
not advance without their moving forward along with men has
been recognized from the beginning of planned development. Nevertheless,
initially women were viewed as a welfare issue as all human
development issue was. Expenditure on education and health and
other social items was categorized as welfare expenditure as
was the expenditure on improving women's access to such services.
This was the first phase of attention to women's needs. They
were viewed just as consumers and mothers and wives. Their well
being and education was considered necessary primarily because
they were mothers and companions to men.
All this started to change since 1975, when
women were declared as an issue in development, the Women in
Development (WID) approach. Their direct role in the production
and hence in development started to be recognized. Women started
to be seen as producers. But still they were viewed as a group
left behind by the capitalistic production system, some how
outside the system. It seemed to assume that pulling them along
while keeping the patriarchal structures and ideology intact,
will change their status. Women's involvement was seen as necessary
for success of development projects not only in education and
health but also in areas where they predominated as workers,
particularly in agriculture and allied spheres in developing
countries. Integration of women in the development process was
a catch word.
Then, WID evolved into the concept of Women
in Development (WAD), which emphasized the fact that it was
not that women were outside the development process but that
they were integrated in development in an exploitative relation.
They were supporting the capitalistic development by freeing
it from the need of paying adequate subsistence wages to its
workers to support their families. However, the WAD approach
paid little attention to the patriarchal relations within the
domestic and public arena, which were often reinforced by the
developing capitalist structures.
All these concepts emphasized the women's
position in relation to development and not her overall position
in the society. In-spite of much rhetoric during the two decades
following 1975, the changes realized in women's status and rights,
particularly in developing countries, was marginal. After a
review of the progress made in advancing women's cause, the
Beijing Platform for Action (1995) proposed a 12 point program.
The distinguishing feature of this Platform as compared to earlier
programs was its emphasis on the multi-dimensional nature of
women's subordination and the need to attack it in all spheres
by mainstreaming and empowerment of women. It adopted a gender
framework for an analysis and solution to women's problems.
Gender approach to women's advancement is
different from WID or WAD in the fact that it recognizes the
multi-dimensional nature of women's subordination. Particularly
- Women as physical beings are different
from the "female" as constructed by the society.
- While women as physical beings are universally
the same with the exclusive responsibility of physical
reproduction of human beings, as cultural beings "females"
are context-specific, changing with time and context.
- Gender-relations are the result of socially
constructed unequal power relations and are context specific.
There is nothing in women's reproductive responsibilities
that should make them subordinate to men. It is the culture
which establishes the ideology of male supremacy and female
- Patriarchy is an
overwhelming ideology which pervades all aspects of social
existence. Women's subordination is all round - economic,
social, religious, cultural, political and ideological, each
of which reinforce each other. Therefore the efforts to
liberate women from the oppressive gender relations must be
- Men also are victims of patriarchal ideology,
but to a lesser degree
- Women's problems can not be solved just
by addressing her basic needs issues. Issue of power-relations
must also be addressed.
- Women's overall socio-political and economic
status can be improved only by changing the gender relations
of domination and subordination between men and women that
is by empowerment of women.
- Empowerment is a process by which
an individual is empowered to take control of her/his own
life on the basis of equality with others. This must be
a multi-dimensional process encompassing all aspects of social
existence - legal rights, guarantee of equity and equality
in access to resources, education and knowledge etc, as also
generation of a consciousness about and a willingness to fight
against the oppressive relations.
- Women can not be viewed as objects of development;
they must be viewed as subjects of development.
- Equality and equity is a woman's human
- Gender also must address other kinds of
oppression, besides gender relations, for example caste, class,
ethnicity, language group related inequalities.
- Women's needs and problems are too colossal
to be addressed by individual programs. They have to be addressed
in all spheres, hence the concept of mainstreaming. Since
women's problems were viewed as something different from the
overall society under WID and WAD, specific program for women
were advocated. Under mainstreaming approach the emphasis
is on capacity building and compensating programs and programs
for addressing women's specific needs related to reproductive
needs and combating various forms of violence against the
female of the species. In addition all policies, programs/projects,
sector specific or otherwise, must be gender/class/caste/ethnicity
sensitive and try to redress the disadvantages faced by women
of each group in each of the spheres. It does not mean that
basic needs related programs are neglected. But it emphasizes
that they are not adequate. They will be much more fruitful
if implemented in addition to programs which meet their strategic
needs to change the oppressive socio-economic and political
structures, acts, rules, regulation and oppressive ideology
of all kinds.
In Nepal the move to WID, WAD and Gender approaches
to development has not been uniform in all the sectors and civil
society institutions. In principal the government/donors and
some INGOs and the women-specific National-level NGOs have moved
faster in this direction. Other civil society institutions such
as media and trade unions, local NGOs seem still to be grappling
with the WAD approach. The next section examines in some detail
these moves of selected actors.
II. Development Plans and Policies (1980/81-
2002/3) in Nepal
The Government Sector /Donors
At the National level, the government policies
have moved with the international thinking, initiating programs
for women with a welfare approach, particularly in education
and health, emphasizing their mothering roles during the sixties
and seventies and adopting a WID approach with emphasis on their
developmental role during the eighties. The government had emphasized
women's involvement in all programs and projects, recognized
legal impediment to their economic empowerment and enunciated
special programs for meeting their needs already in the Sixth
Five Year Plan (1981-1985). The Seventh and the Eighth Five
Year Plans expanded on these themes. Required legal reforms
were also to be implemented to facilitate women's participation
in development. The Eighth Plan also mentioned about increasing
women's representation at decision making levels in the government,
non-government and semi-government sectors and developing a
monitoring system for recording gender discrimination at work.
A suitable organizational structure for coordination and monitoring
of activities relating to women was also envisaged.
Specifically, the Ninth Plan (1997-2002) adopted
mainstreaming, eliminating gender inequality and empowerment
as its major policies on women and thus moved towards a gender
approach to women's promotion.
Mainstreaming was further explained as clearly
defined policies, targets and programs in all sectors at national
and regional levels, more scientific and realistic calculation
of GDP statistics to include women's contributions therein,
and development of more effective coordination and monitoring
instruments and mechanisms.
The objective of equality was decomposed into
elimination of gender inequality in all laws, affirmative action
policies and programs to reduce current inequality in economic
social and other areas, stronger laws and enforcement mechanisms
to counter all kinds of violence against women and gender awareness
programs for the public sector institutions.
Empowerment, on the other hand, included mandatory representation
of women in formulation of policies and programs at all levels,
ensuring women's rights in ownership of land, agricultural trainings,
marketing, and other income generating activities, development
of a better health system to ensure wider access to qualitatively
improved facilities for safe motherhood, delivery, etc, continuation
of specific enabling programs in education, technical, entrepreneurial,
and management training, increasing access to institutional
credit, other resources and assets for income generation, promotion
of technological improvements in agriculture and other fields
so as to reduce drudgery of women's work and to increase their
Accordingly, achievements since 1981 include:
- Establishment of a number of institutions,
including a Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare
(MWCSW) in 1995, a division in National Planning Commission
(NPC), and Ministries of Agriculture and Education
- Institution of gender-focal points in many
of the ministries, including Health, MLD, Finance, Labor,
- Increase in women's participation in sector
programs, such as farmer trainings, forestry groups and skill
trainings to about 20 percent.
- Initiation of specific programs for women
- large national level credit programs such as Production
Credit for Rural Women (PCRW) and Micro-Credit Project
for Women MCPW, Women's Development Program under Small
Farmer Development Program, five regional banks (Regional
Rural Development Banks and - educational programs such
as special provisions for female teachers, scholarships
for girls, etc. in the government sector and People's
Banks like Nirdhan and Center for Social Development Banks,
which evolved from small NGOs and operate along the Bangladesh
Grameen Bank model, lending only to women's groups and
are owned largely by the members/clients.
- setting concrete targets for reduction of maternal mortality
rate (MMR) and morbidity related deficiencies.
- Extension of health facilities, health
information and education to increase the access of women
and children to primary health care, immunization, nutrition,
iron and vitamin A supplements etc.
- Legal reform making women's right
to property a little more secure and strengthening punitive
measures against violence.
The Tenth Plan continues this emphasis on
mainstreaming, equality and empowerment while trying to address
the major problems related to internalization of these strategies
in sector policies and programs. Major problems identified in
implementation of these strategies during the Ninth Plan were:
- Lack of efforts for and understanding of
the concept and process of mainstreaming at the sector levels
- Marginality of the women's programs in
- Inadequate gender sensitivity of the sector
and project implementing agencies in general. Gender sensitiveness
may be viewed in terms of strength and effectiveness of the
specific machinery involved in advocating women's concerns
in the development process, gender awareness of the general
implementing machinery and finally proportion of women in
decision making roles in the government.
- Lack of capacity for gender analysis and
gender planning in WID institutions, divisions, departments
and focal points.
- Inadequate gender sensitivity of major
training programs to gender issues
- Insufficient efforts to include women's
representation in decision making roles
- Dependency of WID institution on donors
- Lack of an effective gender monitoring
mechanisms and institutional structures at the center, DDC
and at the grass-roots levels, even when sufficient attention
was paid to mainstreaming in specific programs.
Government has tried to redress these problems
in the later half of the Ninth Plan and the Tenth Plan (2003-2007).
Nevertheless, the problem of internalization of the Plan objectives
by specific sectors remains even in the Tenth Plan. For example
while the inconsistency between the overall objective of increasing
women's access to decision making roles and intended administrative
reforms has been redressed, the total neglect of the gender
and equity issue remain in chapters on industry and commerce
and communications. The social role the communications has to
play in shaping the future society has been completely ignored
in communications chapter while the chapter on women does put
emphasis on the role of media in changing attitudes and social
Implementation aspects are still problematic
in-spite of incorporation of gender issues in the policy declaration
and programs. I want to bring in findings from a recent evaluation
of Ministry of Local Development (MLD) as an institution and
its programs in which I was involved to illustrate the implementation
problems faced by them, primarily because of the general patriarchal
ideology and attitudes.
MLD is probably the most gender sensitive
ministry in terms its policies and programs. It has shown this
gender sensitivity by:
- Introducing 1981/82 and managing success
fully since credit programs for women, PCRW/MCPW
- Introducing reservations in Local-Self
-Government Act (LSGA) 2055
- Specifying the need of programs to address
gender concerns by the District Development Committees (DDCs)
and Village Development Committees (VDCs). Need for participation
of women and other disadvantaged groups in planning and budgeting
practices are nicely incorporated in the policies, Act and
Regulations of local institutions.
- Requiring all User committees to have at
least 30 percent women
- Introducing specific gender empowering
elements in its programs, such as Participatory District Development
Program and Local Governance Program (PDDP/LGP).
- Promoting programs
like Decentralized Action for Children and Women (DACAW) in
collaboration with UNICEF for increasing women's access to
services and changing the community gender perspective by
involving men in them.
Nevertheless, MLD's terms of reference specifying
its roles and responsibilities in 13 points (MLD Booklet, 2058/59)
do not mention women or gender equity as one of its objectives.
In the earlier version of the booklet, it had promoting women's
development as one of its objectives. Because since last fiscal
year Women's Division implementing the PCRW/MCPW has been transferred
to MWCSW, now the ministry thinks that it has no responsibility
for gender mainstreaming, in-spite of the Tenth Plan. This shows
that the multi-dimensional implications of the mainstreaming
are yet to be fully understood even in MLD as an institution.
The provisions for committees and representation
in the committees; working structure and staff in the ministry
and the committees under VDC/DDC do not ensure women's equal
representation as an integral part of the system, although this
is ensured in the political representation in DDCs and VDCs.
The representation of women in various LSG-institutions
is too low, at less than 2 percent in district councils and
less than 10 percent generally in LSG executive bodies and not
efficient because it is by nomination.
Staffing pattern in the local bodies are quite
gender biased as else where in HMG. Very few women are recruited
in the district, VDC and municipality services. Fewer are in
the decision-making positions. Those who are recruited occupy
non-officer level clerical positions or work as lower level
Some programs such as Village Development
Program (VDP) under LGP/PDDP are concentrated on group formation,
skill development and small scale income-generating programs,
which have empowering elements for women. Moreover, they seem
to have started to pay attention to issues of women's and child
rights in their training programs and seek women's participation
in planning, programming/budgeting exercises. Although these
programs have brought significant changes in the female group
member's economic and social life, aspects of women's empowerment
and efforts to change gender ideology and gender roles are lagging
behind. The mandatory requirement of women's participation in
each step of planning and programming are only weakly implemented.
The focus has been on a few leading women rather on strengthening
the group dynamics. Besides, the area or VDP coverage of LGP/PDDP
is limited and the program sites are viewed only as model areas.
In general, however, the participation of
women and the disadvantaged groups in local level planning and
budgeting process are low. Among the infrastructure projects,
which dominate MLD programs, many did not go beyond eliciting
women's participation in the program implementation. Mandatory
provisions on women's (30 percent in the User's committees)
and community participation in planning, budgeting and management
of the programs were taken as a mare formality.
The issue of ensuring gender equality in sharing
project benefits has not been followed through in implementation.
Participation is usually limited to contributing labor. Within
the group also some few influential and resourceful women/men
dominate the decision making process. Only they benefit fully
from the opportunities provided by the programs.
In many of the study areas it was found that
fictional names of women were added to User Group member list
to meet the 30 percent female representation requirement. Many
VDCs did not even know that User groups had to have at least
30 percent women members.
The quality of women's participation was still
low. Most women were concerned only with their basic needs,
such as water, sanitation, health, training in traditionally
female-specific skills, small income generation, micro-credit
etc. Women's demands also depended on the environment of their
habitation- women in the Hills demanding roads, electricity
in Dhangadi. These programs help women to fulfill their basic
needs but usually do not impact on gender relations, inside
the domestic or public arena.
The DDC/VDC officials saw women's involvement
in agriculture road and other infrastructure projects, as a
means to improve project performance as women were perceived
as more honest and hard working than men. But, they opined that
women themselves should demand their rights, and first women
should be made capable for such practices. In program areas,
the division of work at home had changed little. Neither had
the attitude of men towards women's health needs changed even
in DACAW areas.
The grass roots focus groups, women representatives
and official- all identified constraints such as religion, culture,
tradition and low level of education and awareness of women
besides, household responsibilities, women's concentration at
lower levels of decision-making, hesitation among women, for
women's low participation in programming and budgeting processes.
Women added to this list inadequate gender sensitivity of their
male collogues, who often, they said, ignored female voices
even when women spoke out.
Another big chunk of the MLD budget goes to
supporting relief type programs such as Social Security. The
Government is trying to provide some social security to the
old (of 75 years and above), disabled and widows (60 years and
above) by providing them a small monthly allowance of Rs. 100
per month and other facilities to disabled (e.g. scholarship).
In the 5 districts visited by this team it was found that old-age
allowance was not equitably distributed. Only those old people
who had citizenships and idea/power to get the allowance were
benefiting from this allowance. Since poor women were usually
disadvantaged in the power-relations and had citizenship problems,
many of them were not getting these allowances.
Non-government sector is constituted by various
INGO/NGOs, the media, trade unions and the private sector. The
private sector efforts at women's promotion have not been documented
so far. This analysis, therefore, presents a brief overview
of INGOs and NGOs efforts, including the problems with trade
unions and research institutions. Media is another huge sector,
which greatly influences social-behavior. Problems related to
media have also been discussed briefly.
A large number of INGOs and NGOs are active
in Nepal as development agency. Their programs have also moved
alone with international trends, from WID to WAD and now mainstreaming.
Particularly INGOs have concentrated on mainstreaming since
the Beijing Conference in 1995. Until the Beijing Conference
(1995), most INGOs did not have a well worked out gender strategy.
Their programs were primarily directed to fulfilling women's
basic needs rather than their empowerment and a change in gender
relations par se. Whatever element of empowerment were inherent
in programs such as social mobilization, income generation cum
savings-credit, family planning and health services, and education
were incidental to the basic objective of fulfilling women's
basic needs in such services. After the Beijing Conference,
gender main streaming has become their main strategy with focus
on gender training and ensuring equitable access to services
provided. Issues of structural changes still remain outside
Women's programs implemented NGOs are diverse
in nature but focused on group organization, awareness raising
and savings-credit activities. Their other activities include
advocacy against trafficking, legal literacy, community development,
gender training, income generating activity/credit, community
development, environment, etc. Impact of these activity on the
women, even at project level is difficult to judge, since their
number is quite large and programs very limited. Not many NGOs
have good monitoring and evaluation system covering long periods.
Nevertheless, one impact they together seem to have made is
on raising public consciousness about gender and women's concerns,
in both rural and urban areas.
One kind of activity, which has been undertaken
by large and small NGOs, some of which have converted themselves
into banks, is savings-credit and small income generation. In-spite
of small investment, income generation seems to be the most
popular strategy. Such income generation and saving-credit activities
are focused on small animal keeping, sewing, knitting, basket
weaving, vegetable gardening etc, typically household oriented
"feminine" activities with very little market potential.
Nevertheless they have released women from the need to go to
money lenders for small amounts, given access to some income
in their hands to meet their own personal needs such as delivery
expenses, and increased their self confidence and prepared them
for group action. These are empowering features of such programs.
A visible by-product of such social mobilization is the struggle
against alcohol use and domestic violence at the grass roots
for a large number of CBOs and NGOs.
In the health and family planning activities,
large NGOs and local women's groups such as AMA Samuha are involved
on a nation-wide scale and their impact is visible in changes
in fertility behavior and improvement in health behavior.
For a few national NGOs, the issues of equal
legal rights and advocacy for women's economic and political
empowerment have become the major planks for advocacy.
Trade unions are one of the most important
institutions which could help in raising women's status. These
are primarily labor advocacy NGOs often affiliated to one or
other political party promoting worker's interests. They are
directly concerned with the workers' wellbeing and women constitute
a substantial proportion among the workers. However, no data
are available on the female membership of the trade unions,
although of the 3.5 million wage earners, 621 000, about 18
percent have been reported to be organized (GEFONT, 2001).
Traditionally female representation at decision-making
levels in the trade unions has been marginal and they have not
accorded priority to women workers' issues (GEFONT, 2000).
Although women have constituted a substantial proportion among
their members, female representation among the executives had
been only marginal in the past. It is changing slowly as evident
from the table 3 below. Currently women constitute about 12
percent of the total central leadership in the three largest
unions. The larger trade unions have also taken
specific policy decisions for increasing quantitative and qualitative
representation of women in their activities and decision making
In-spite of their over whelming concentration
on party-politics, trade unions have usually fought for specific
rights for women workers to fulfill their mothering roles. Their
demand lists have included maternity leave, equal wages, crèche
facilities, provision of female toilets etc, which have enabled
women workers to legally establish such rights. The Labor Act
together with Labor Regulations (1993) has provisions of 52
days of paid maternity leave up to two pregnancies, only day
time employment, limitation on the loads larger than their own
body weight etc. At the work places employing more than 50 women,
provisions have been made for compulsory crèche facilities
and female toilets.
Table: 3 Women in Policy-Making bodies in Trade Unions
National Committee Members
|Committees under GEFONT affiliates
Source: GEFONT, 2001
Nevertheless problems abound. For example
problems listed by the GEFONT Report itself include:
- Lack of gender perspective in Union leadership,
policies and programs
- Low priority to women worker-specific issue
in collective bargaining. Although some of the women specific
issues have been raised they have not been a priority in collective
- Lack of emphasis on development and continuity
of women's participation and leadership, focus on "participation"
and "representation" only
- Patriarchal environment in the unions,
e. g, insensitivity to women's needs in organizational matters
(fixing union activities, time, venue etc), lack of cooperation,
encouragement and support to women in the union work, no major
responsibility to women etc.
- Unequal employment opportunities
- Sexual harassment of women even in the
union. There are no clear laws and regulations to define sexual
harassment at the workplace and often no action is taken against
all kinds of such harassment, appropriate treatment and indemnity
to the victims is lacking.
- Lack of recognition of family responsibilities
in the workplace
Consequently, workers have identified awareness
and education campaigns against sexual harassment, on female
workers' demands, HIV/AIDS, building transparent work place
and building women's confidences as one of their priorities.
Gender sensitivity of media, as also other
sectors, may be viewed in a three dimensional perspective-the
first issue does the media relate to gender issues positively,
is the language, cartoons and general ideology used in presentations
gender sensitive and finally are women given opportunity in
media activities with sympathy. There has been much progress
in women's participation in media channels, particularly in
electronic media, with the democratic changes of 1990 and since
opening up of the sector to the private sector. Women constituted
12.3 percent in 1991 and 12.9 percent of media personnel in
1991. At that time sole electronic media were Nepal Radio and
Nepal TV. With the proliferation of FM radios and private TV
channels, women's participation as media workers has increased
significantly in 2002 as reflected in the table below.
Table: Percent Women in Media
Source: Asmita Publishing House, 2003
Similarly, there has been a substantial progress
in media coverage of women's issues (Asmita Publishing House,
This positive development, nevertheless, has
not been accompanied by a changed attitude towards a need for
inducting women in this sector by social consciousness for promoting
women, but for commercial gains only as accepted by the management
in interviews (Asmita, 2003). Most of them use women for promoting
consumer products, thus propagating the capitalist image of
women merely as consumers. This promotes commoditifiication
of human body. The print media may be considered some what better
than electronic media in this context. Nevertheless, most of
them are guided by particular political and patriarchal ideology
and perceptions. Otherwise, one would not have seen irrelevant
naked females even in government paper like the Rising Nepal
or the private sector Samachar Patra daily, as a perceived marketing
The next most important issue is how do media
relate to gender issues? Most of the time this issue seems to
be perceived in a limited perspective of whether the media covers
so called women's or women related issues. This is important
but the more crucial gender issue in this context is how do
they picture male and female in their all presentations? Media
is the most important channel which plays crucial role in forming
consciousness, attitudes and in behavior in the society. Do
they idealize and perpetuate the traditional image of women
or try to grasp the changing positive images of women?
Most often, the articles and arguments made
through media against change in favor of women dwell on the
personalities who are raising this issue rather than the merit
or demerit of the issue par se. For example women who are fighting
for equal gender rights are pictured as greedy, foreign instigated
and with no knowledge of rural or ordinary women's lives. Even
those people who are struggling for democratic and human rights
consider women's struggle for legal equality irrelevant. When
arguments are made on the issue par se, then it is possible
to present counter arguments and media should give equal chance
to both view point. But when the attack is made on personal
grounds, such writings must be rejected, unless specific and
Finally the language, cartoons, idioms, fables,
stories used to make their point in all presentations are mostly
gender biased. The mode of news presentation itself is another
issue. For example how is a rape case presented as a social
crime for which the society must be ashamed or a sensation to
sell the paper, blaming the victim for the crime?
Both male and female are cultural products,
with their ideas and behavior shaped by the prevailing ideology,
social mores and behavioral standards of patriarchy. The ideology
of male and female is ingrained in our subconscious by our upbringing.
We use language and figures degrading women subconsciously.
A very revealing example of this was the "Chura and Pote"
sent by the women demonstrations during the 1990 democratic
movement to their male collogues. Similarly, writings of most
respected proponents of change also still clearly reflect their
gender bias. For example take the following passage " Ahile
RAPRAPA bhaneko Kangress ka lagi gharania paribar bata bhitriaeki
sahrai mukhale dulahi jasti bhai raheki cha
samet laieki dulahi
bachan bolda budheshkal ki kanchi ratarat poila jane khatara
cha " (Khagendra Sangraula, Sapatahic Jana Astha, Kartik
15, 2052 as recited by Asmita, 2002 ). This Asmita publication
cites enumerable example of use of such idioms and language
by our so called progressive and not so progressive writers.
The writers and media presenters must be aware of their own
language and ideology.
Thus, increasing gender consciousness among
the reporters, writers and news handlers about the content,
language and modality of presentation is identified as the major
challenge in this sector.
Higher teaching institutions have remained
so far one of the pillars of conventional thinking. As an example,
in-spite of a sea-change in the concepts of GDP and economic
and non-economic activities in practical terms, the old theory
continues to be tought on labor and GDP. Research institutions
do not consider women as an issue in hard core economic research
and policy recommendations, for example economic liberalization.
It has been well established by now that the
structural adjustment policies, promoting a competitive economy
through privatization and a minimalist state, is neither poor-friendly
nor gender friendly in general (HDR, 1996). This has been proved
by the political commotions, which have resulted partially from
such policies all over the world during the last decade. The
poor and the politically, socially and economically weaker sections
of the population, who form the majority in the developing countries,
can hardly compete in this unequal global race. However, the
research on impact of such policies in Nepal have generally
failed to explore such issues as an integral part of their research,
particularly in reference to women,
The structural adjustment programs have included, (i) expenditure
control, streamlining of transfer and subsidies and shift in
budgetary allocations (ii) privatization and commercial orientation
of public enterprises including utilities (iii) privatization
or decontrol of delivery of basic services or move towards cost
pricing of such services, and (iv) rationalization of tax structure.
These measures are further accompanied by deregulation of the
internal as also the external sectors. All these measures have
important implications for women's access to resources, necessary
services and employment, but few macro-economic researchers
have paid attention to them.
Expenditure control, streamlining of transfer
and subsidies and shift in budgetary allocations has been
one of the major policies under fiscal reform. It is good for
the whole population if the expenditure control is achieved
by maintaining the minimum level of development expenditure
required for physical and social infrastructure and assisting
the weaker sections of the population to cope with the vagaries
of globalization. But in Nepal development expenditure as a
proportion of GDP has declined during the nineties.
On the positive side the pattern of expenditure
has shifted in favor of social and human priority sectors and
rural infrastructure. Within the social sector, budget allocation
to human priority sector, which is defined to include primary
health care, basic and non-formal education, rural water supply,
essential family planning services and nutrition programs, bears
a great significant in terms of making basic social services
available for women and the poor. This is because the use of
household resources is biased against women due to the patriarchal
structure and value system; women have to use mostly public
services. Absolute amount of expenditure per head on such items
has also increased.
Shift in budgetary allocations towards development
of rural physical infrastructure and social sectors, such as
education, health and drinking water could be women friendly
if supplemented by social mobilization of women to benefit from
such development. Since the poor women live mostly in rural
areas, building of rural infrastructure can increase access
of women to sources of employment and markets. But such developments
could also open up the rural economy and the women to global
competition, whereby they might not be able to compete. They
need specific enabling programs such as education, technical
skill training and access to information to be able to compete.
All this needs careful sequencing of the policies and programs,
which has not been in evidence until recently in Nepal.
Generally, a shift in allocation pattern involves
reducing expenditure on economic services. If such reductions
come from expenditure cuts on agriculture, small irrigation,
assistance to small industries etc. as in Nepal then it is against
women's interest. Such cuts may reduce profitability of agriculture
hence reducing employment opportunities for rural women. This
is in evidence in Nepal (See Acharya, 2000).
Whether streamlining transfers and reduction
in subsidies are beneficial or harmful to women will depend
on the specific items of subsidy reduced and use of resources
thus freed. Withdrawal of subsidies like those extended to small
irrigation, bio-gas, food, livestock insurance, credit to small
farmers, etc., have significant productive as well as distributive
effect. In Nepal the withdrawal of price subsidy on food and
fertilizer has crippled the food security system and exposed
households in the remote and other food deficit areas to hunger
and malnutrition. The deteriorating food security situation
has led to increased labor migration in search of work to support
their food. As mobility of the male workers has remained high
due to social and cultural factors, many families have to remain
separated from their working age male members. This has been
a reason for enlarged family responsibility of women, who in
the absence of their male counterparts have to bear the burnt
Transfers to university education, central
hospitals, media/communications, and operation of public enterprises
are of lesser importance from the view point of benefiting poor
women. Nevertheless, reduction in such transfers does have adverse
gender implications, as it reduces women's access to such services,
given that women in general have less access to household resources
to meet their own needs. This aspect also remains unexplored
Privatization and Commercial Orientation
of Public Enterprises (PE): The impact of privatization
and commercial orientation of PEs on gender can be evaluated
from different perspectives like price effect on the consumers
and women in particular, creation/shrinkage of income and employment
opportunities, use of the privatization precedes and male\female
ratio in ownership of transferred assets etc.
The first hand impact of privatization of
public enterprises is not gender friendly in general. Privatization
generally results in increase in the prices of the products
of the privatized enterprises, whose impact on women as consumers
depends on importance of this product in the family budget of
an average and poor family. It constrains the household budget
and hence puts more pressure on the poor women.
The primary impact of such privatization is
reduction in the female employment and forcing them to work
on unequal terms. Once privatized, government has less ability
to ensure that the services reach the poorest and most difficult
to reach areas. They are usually the most expensive to reach,
which means that the profit motive will lead private companies
to ignore them. The studies on impact of privatization do not
even provide gender des-aggregated employment data.
Moreover privatization transfers public property
usually to male population, because women have no resources
to buy them in the first place and hence creates more disparity
in access to resources.
Privatization or decontrol of delivery
of basic services or move towards cost pricing of such service:
Privatization of delivery of social services and imposition
of fees may reduce women's access to such services further in
societies, where women face severe discrimination in the access
to family resources. In many surveys, the most recent ones being
the NLSS (1995/96) NMIS, 1996), direct cost of education has
been cited as one of the hampering factors in sending girls
to school, in addition to the need to marry them off and housework.
The increase in education cost must have hampered girl's education
further. Most of the studies on privatization of education have
ignored this issue. This may also create further social cleavages
in already divided societies, unless accompanied by mass scale
education and health assistance programs for the disadvantaged
groups and women. Current commotion on the educational front
in Nepal is a direct result of such privatization policies,
without a proper regulatory and compensatory mechanism.
Rationalization of tax structure: Rationalization
of tax structure has generally meant increase in direct tax-burden
but reduction in commodity taxation. But in the recent years
reduction in tax rates have been general. The primary objectives
of tax reform have been promotion of the private sector through
fiscal incentives and opening the market for competition by
reducing tariff to comply with the WTO requirements.
The direct tax system in general has less
relevance for women directly because women are mostly outside
such tax net. The differential impact of indirect tax on gender
is more pronounced. Across the board, women are generally poorer
than men. Indirect taxes, which tend to discriminate against
the poor,are therefore likely to be more discriminatory against
women. Introduction of VAT and reduction in tariff slabs and
a general reduction in the rates has made the indirect tax system
more regressive in Nepal during the 1990s.
Customs or tarrif measures affect women as
a worker, a farmer, a consumer or a trader. The drastic cut
in tariff wall in Nepal in the nineties bringing down the average
import duty to 10 per cent at present against more than 25 per
cent a decade back has reduced the protection for industries
sharply. As a result, many labor intensive industries like cottage
and small-scale manufacturing in the informal sector, textile,
and other import substitution industries have been forced to
close down. This has eroded the job opportunity and off farm
activities of women in the rural areas. The job opportunities
created in the urban areas, driven by the forces of export market,
remain highly uncertain due to vulnerability of the exports
market. There is no job security, nor adequate coverage in term
of social protection. The participation of women in formal sector
job is often limited and there are few women entrepreneurs.
On the whole, women may not have benefited from the growth of
the private sector propelled by fiscal incentives (see Acharya,
2000b), except in a few cases.
On the other hand, women would have benefited
as consumers by the reduction on tariff rates on essential goods
particularly food and medicine.
The issue is not whether Nepal should have
implemented the structural adjustment policies, but whether
the group specific likely impacts on the people were taken into
account while implanting such policies. The government and the
assisting research institutions in Nepal have generally failed
to analyze these aspects. The challenge is to make the process
of integration in the global economy more gender sensitive and
human. Given the limitation on available resources, and generally
low level of living standards of the majority of the population,
the possibility of the capture of resources by the powerful
groups is immense, which has bogged down the whole governance
process. Women and the poor have figured only as pawns in this
power game. Researchers must be aware of these implications
and advise the government on appropriate compensating policies
II. Changing Gender Status -Achievements
The efforts at promotion of women by the government/donor
sector and selected segments of the civil society were reviewed
in brief in the last section. Their problems were also discussed
briefly. The issue is how have all these programs and activities
impacted on gender relations, and women's status in comparison
to men's status in general? Have they been able to make a dent
into the entrenched patriarchy? Or is the patriarchy just changing
Patriarchy is an all-involving ideology, which
permeates all aspects of life, whereby the coordinates of subordination
reinforce each other. For example social disadvantages of women
due to early marriage, high fertility and low access to health
and family planning services, low educational levels and violence
against them are reinforced by lack of access to economic resources.
Both of which are reinforced by the political powerlessness,
which in its turn reinforces other inequities. Social disadvantages
in their turn debar women from active participation in politics.
The following analysis, therefore, proceeds in the background
of this circular relationship. Although for analytical purposes
impact on gender relations have been examined under social,
economic and political dimensions, the inter-relation between
them is kept always in the background.
Achievements in terms of social development
indicators have been significant for both women and men in the
last two decades. Access to social services in terms of schools
and health posts and hospital beds has increased significantly.
Human development indicators have improved significantly for
both men and women. Nevertheless, in comparative analysis only
women's life expectancy seems to indicate progress towards gender
equity. In literacy and education gender disparities are decreasing
only slowly. Girl's enrolment has not attended parity even at
the primary level. The number of women with SLC and higher degrees
still constitute only 43 to 100 men with such qualifications.
Similarly, the number of women, with graduate and higher degrees,
are still less than 20 to 100 men with such degrees. What is
more, this ratio has declined as compared to 1991 figure. The
male: female ratio of full time students is still only 43:57.
Further, these achievements are very unequally distributed as
between the regions, rural and urban areas, among castes and
various ethnic groups.
In the health sector the improvement is visible
in terms of a substantial improvement in MMR, fertility behavior
and ultimately life expectancy. The mean age of first marriage
for both the girls and he boys are increasing.
Yet, the ideology of male domination, which
pervades our lives, is changing only slowly and it is hampering
development in all sectors. It is well recognized by now that
there is a large variation between the Indo-Aryan and the Tibeto-Burman
groups and even within each of these groups in terms of social
relations governing gender relations. In-spite of this diversity,
land is inherited universally in all communities from the father
to the son and women lag far behind men in access to knowledge,
economic resources and modern avenues of employment. Marriage
is compulsory and seen as a primary means of livelihood for
women in all most all communities (Acharya and Bennett, 1981;
Table 3: Social Dimensions of Gender Status,
|Sex Ratio (Males per 100
|Mean Age of Marriage (Years)
|MMR per 100,000 delivery
|TFR (15-49 ages, 1995-2000
|Life Expectancy at birth
|Literacy in 6 years+ age
|---Literacy Ratio (Literate
female/ 100 literate Male)
|Female in total school enrolment
|Female percent among full
|SLC and Above (Females\100
|Graduates (Females \ 100
Sources: (1) Population Census, 2001; (2)
HDR, 1995 and 2002 (3) Population Monograph , CBS 1995.
Violence against women is also widespread
in all communities. Violence, both in the domestic as well as
in the public arena is still used extensively by the patriarchy
to establish domination over women. Ninety five percent of women
surveyed in one study (Sathi et. All 1997) reported first hand
knowledge of some kind of violence against women. The form of
violence ranges from mental torture to mild beating to extreme
selling and trafficking for commercial sex work.
As per the 2001 Census more than five hundred
fifty-five thousand women are living in polygyneous marriages.
Alcohol and polygyny related violence in the domestic arena
is reported high all over Nepal and across all communities (New
ERA, 1998). Dowry related violence was reported to a lesser
extent, but it does exist. A large group of young widows, particularly,
in the Indo-Aryan community, are subject to covert and overt
violence and face both psychological (as forerunners of misfortune)
and physical violence, often for her share of property.
Trafficking is widely reported but hard data
are impossible to collect. Police estimate trafficking of about
5000-7000 women for commercial sex work annually. In the past,
girls and women from the Tibeto-Burman groups, coming from poor
rural areas were prone to trafficking. But in recent years this
malice is spreading all over the country and girls from all
communities are falling victim to this heinous crime. Younger
and younger girls are being lured to this trade, overtly or
covertly (New ERA, 1998). Poverty and lack of adequately paying
jobs, due to progressive decline in demands for the services
of the village craftsmen and accelerated impoverishment of lower
peasantry due to land division and subdivision, is pushing households
to sell their own girls. Modern consumerism and drug use among
youngsters has made it easier for the traffickers to lure young
women even from the middle class. The patriarchal socialization,
which establishes marriage as a respectable livelihood option
for the girls, is one of the causes of girls falling to trafficker's
traps. The Maoist insurgency has compounded the problem of violence
against women and children.
On the economic side women's participation
in formally defined labor force has increased substantially
between 1981 and 2001. Much of the definitional problems in
the economic activity rates are also being taken care of slowly.
As per the Census, 2001 women constitute almost 43 percent of
the labor force, 48 percent in agriculture and 34 percent in
the non-agriculture sector. This increase is accounted for by
three factors: increase in actual participation defined as economic,
redefinition of the activities themselves and more detailed
and specific description activities in the Census manual and
training. Al these factors are positive from the perspective
of women's empowerment, but beyond the scope of this paper for
detailed discussion. They contribute to making women's work
visible. But the subsistence sector is getting feminized, and
this is not favorable from a gender perspective. In means further
segregation of women to low paying activity.
Table 4: Selected Indicators on Economic
Activity Characteristics, 2001
|Economically Active (Ages10+)
|Female % in Total Economically
|Female % in Agriculture
|Female % in Non-Agriculture
|Female/Male Wage Ratio
|Female % total working force
|Female % among full time
Sources: (1) Population Census, 2001; (2)
Population Monograph , CBS 1995.
Development of major export industries, such
as carpet, garments, and woolen goods, has opened new avenues
of formal employment for women. Proportion of women in the non-agricultural
work force has increased to 34 percent. However, here also women
are concentrated at low paying and less productive, low capital
intensive jobs (NLFS, 1999). Most the labor regulations are
side tracked by employing women at piece rates (GDS\FES,1997,
GEFONT, 2003). Overall women earn about 4/5 of what men earn
in agriculture but 3/4 outside of agriculture as daily wages
There is no ground to believe that women's
access to land and other economic resources has increased in
last 20-25 years as their legal rights over property and inheritance
has not changed much in this period. Even the recently promulgated
amendments to the law on property rights of women, does not
change her access to parental property substantially. The law,
however, does provide easier access to property in her afinal
household. As per the Census 2001, about 5 percent of the households
reported some land in female legal ownership (Table 5). Similarly
only 0.8 percent households had some house in women's name.
Only 5.4 percent households reported female livestock ownership,
des-spite multiple credit-institutions targeting and funding
this activity for women. Only 0.8 percent household had all
three, house, land and livestock in female ownership. Female
headed households, which constituted about 15 percent of the
total households, owned smaller land holdings than male headed
ones. Compared to male heads, female heads of the households
were educationally much more disadvantaged.
In-spite of various credit programs, women's
access to institutional credit is still marginal, both at individual
and household enterprise levels irrespective of ecological regions,
urban/rural areas and ethnicity/caste (Acharya, 2002).
Table 5: Selected Indicators on Income
and Property, 2001
|Per Capita Purchasing Power
Parity ratio PPP $
|Female Ownership of Property
in percent to total
|House, land and livestock
|Operational Land Holdings
|Male Headed Households
|Female Headed Households
|With Graduate and above Education
Women's access to positions
of power, political or otherwise has not improved much in the
last 10-15 years except at the grass roots level, although the
constitution reserves five percent seats among the candidates
of political parties in parliamentary elections for women. At
the grass roots level only, the 20 percent reservation by the
LSGA-2055 Act has made a difference.
In parliamentary elections, political parties
have not been able to put up more than the required mandatory
five percent female candidates. Further the constituencies allocated
to women candidates have often been those, which the particular
party considered difficult to win. As a consequence, in the
outgoing House of Representatives women constituted less than
6 percent, although their proportion was much higher in the
Upper House, where the members are either nominated by the King
or get elected on the basis of party strength in the lower House.
The cabinets formed in the last decade have never included more
than two women or given important positions to them, barring
one or two exceptional cases. One female member in 20-45 ministers
has been the rule. Still today women constitute less than 10
percent in the Central Committees of the major politically parties.
Table 5: Access to Positions of Power:
Percent Women in Various Positions of Power
|--House of Representatives
|--Upper House (Rastriya Shava)
|Number of Women in the Cabinet
|Executives of the major political
|--Of which: Officers
|--High Govt. Position - First
and Special Class
|Professional and technical
human power (All sectors-Censuses, 2001)
|Administration and Management
(All sectors-Census , 2001)
Source: Acharya 1994; CBS/MGEP, Asmita Publishing
1/ Figures relate to 1978, 1993 and 2000.
2/ Five nationally recognized parties (NC, UML, RPP, SJN, and
3/ Seven Parties in the Parliament (NC, UML, RPP, SJN, NSP and
Only reservation since 1997 has been able
to bring out women into politics in significant proportions,
20 percent at the grass roots level. Still in DDC council women
constitute only 1.5 percent even with the mandatory nominations.
The higher the position the lower is the female representation.
Moreover, the system of nominating women in the LSG - executive
bodies is incompatible with the general process of LSG structure.
They should be elected as other members in all related LSG institutions.
The usual defect of reservation that it becomes
only a token and women actually do not participate effectively
has not been supported by the five years experience of reservation
for women in LSG in Nepal. Social political changes are clearly
- In-spite of the socio-economic constraints,
many women representatives have participated effectively in
LSG affairs and been able to influence the decision-making
- They have been able to draw attention of
their colleagues to issues of basic needs and community development
as also women's development.
- They are also fighting against the burning
gender issues such as alcoholism and violence against women,
- Slowly women's leadership is emerging
from the grass roots level. Their quest and assertion for
power sharing, resources and authority is itself a process
of their empowerment.
- These women educated in grass-roots politics
and gender issues, will create a political force in favor
of women. LSG Women Representatives' s Federation with a comprehensive
action plan for social change will be force the parties to
- The emergence of a large number of underprivileged
women in local government heralds a fundamental change in
the socio-econimic position of the Dalits as well.
The female representation in government administration
also is improving, but only slowly. Compared to 1978, the proportion
of women in the government administration has almost trebled.
At officer and higher levels it has doubled. Still women constitute
less than ten percent of the total government staff. The proportion
of women even among the professional and technical group in
the occupational classification had declined in 1991 as compared
to 1981 but the trend has fortunately reversed as per the 2001
Census (Table 4). The trend of increasing proportion of women
in administration and management is more encouraging.
During the 1990s, women's awareness of political
and gender issue has increased rapidly. Although there in no
macro level data to authenticate the above statement, women
have been mobilized extensively into groups by various NGOs/INGOs
and the government programs. After the mandatory provision in
LSGA-2055, they have also been mobilized by the political parties
Women's political consciousness is also increasing.
The proportion of rural women who knew about women's organizations
had more than trebled between 1978 and 1992 (from 4.7 percent
to 14.9 percent). But still only 15 percent of rural women know
about women's organizations and less than one percent participated
in them. Slightly more than 20 percent knew about the new constitution,
but only 6.2 percent was aware of its discriminatory features.
Awareness in urban was higher (Acharya, 1997) at 29.2 percent.
In contrast to one percent women reporting any women's organization
membership, a recent survey conducted by GEFONT among women/men
workers reports (GEFONT, 2003) that 27 percent of the women
workers interviewed had ever joined one or other woman's organization.
But many of these women also reported that they could not continue
such membership due to familial and social non-acceptability
and household responsibilities.
Thus much of the problems with women's advancement
are now related to patriarchal ideology, behavior and structures.
All sectors/ sub-sectors, discussed above are hampered in achievement
of their objectives by a patriarchal ideology.
For example in the government sector, and
generally, there is no resistance to involving women in development
par se, fulfilling their basic needs by increasing their access
to health, education, employment and small income generating
activities. Educated women are seen as good mothers for the
child's wellbeing, their health necessary for the same purpose.
Small income generating, skill training and employment programs
for women are seen a good source of additional household income.
But, the inadequate gender sensitivity of
the implementing machinery remains a major hurdle to implementation
of all government policies. HMG has already made improvement
in women's status as one of its major policy objectives along
with poverty reduction. Nevertheless its implementation remains
a challenge, due to the patriarchal value systems and structures.
When equality in access to resources, decision making positions
and powers and socially accepted ideology are concerned, any
change that has taken place has been accidental. There is no
general recognition that unless women are recognized as full
citizens on par with men, the development process can not proceed
rapidly. The basic challenge therefore is how to change this
In the three civil society sections discussed
above, trade unions, media and research institution, a need
for attitudinal changes towards gender issues was identified
as basic necessicity for further advancement of women. It seems
that without an attitudinal and ideological change, further
structural reforms in favor of women will be hard to achieve.
The impact of patriarchy on our ideas, behaviour
and convictions can be reduced only by a multi-dimensional and
concerted effort first and foremost at re-examination of our
value systems, behaviour and attitude toward issues raised by
the women's movement. The patriarchy in the Nepalese society
is manifested essentially in legal structures, e.g., tying women's
property rights with marriage and the ideology of compulsion
of marriage and shift of a girl to afinal household in marriage,
control over her sexuality and the need for having sons for
salvation. The relationship is circular. This hampers women's
access to resources and avenues of employment, health facilities
and education and knowledge, which in its turn make women more
dependent on men for access to resources. In the light of the
discussions above the exercise for FES partners, should start
with examination by themselves of their institutions, objectives
and guiding principles in a gender perspective.
FES has set itself an objective of gender
mainstreaming all its programs (2003). Naturally, it has a task
of ensuring that all its future funding is put through a prism
of gender sensitivity. As FES partners, we have to examine our
own structures and programs as to their gender sensitivity.
How are we going to mainstream gender in our organizations and
activities? In this connection all organizations should start
- Are our objectives, structures, rules and
regulations as also working modalities gender sensitive?
- Do our programs address the related gender
issues as an integral part of all our work programs and activities?
- Is the gender balance in participant numbers
in all our activities increasing?
- Are gender aspects properly monitored in
- Do our staff and collogues understand the
gender issue properly and have positive attitudes towards
changes in favor women's equality and equity for them?
- What can be done
to make our organization and work as a whole more gender sensitive?
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- -------- (1996)
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