Committed to Social Democracy...
FES in Nepal
FES Worldwide
Media Development
Trade Union Development
Regional Cooperation
Conflict Resolution
Good Governance
Past Activities
FES in the Press
Annual Reports
Seminar/Workshop Reports
List of FES Publications
Book Reviews
FES Publications in University Curricula

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 expounds that:

  • 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 subordination.
  • 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 all round.
  • 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 right
  • 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 productivity.

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, Industry etc.
  • 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 which include
    • 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 sector goals
  • 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 for survival,
  • 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 behavior.

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 support staff.

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

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 their domain.

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

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 positions.

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
Central Leadership
Total Number
Female %
Total Number
Female %
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 bargaining.
  • 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, 2003).

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 ploy.

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 verified.

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…………………..daijo samet laieki dulahi……randi RAPRAPA……..kada 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.

Research Institutions

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 of hardship.

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 in Nepal.

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 and programs.

II. Changing Gender Status -Achievements and Challenges

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 its face?

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.

Social Status

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; Gurung, 1999).

Table 3: Social Dimensions of Gender Status, 2001

Sex Ratio (Males per 100 Female)
Mean Age of Marriage (Years)
MMR per 100,000 delivery (Number)
TFR (15-49 ages, 1995-2000 period) (Number)
Life Expectancy at birth (Years)
Literacy in 6 years+ age group (Percent)
---Literacy Ratio (Literate female/ 100 literate Male)
Female in total school enrolment (Percent)
---Higher Secondary
Female percent among full time students
SLC and Above (Females\100 Male) (Number)
Graduates (Females \ 100 Male) (Number)
HDI Index
GDI Index

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.

Economic Status

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 Active
Female % in Agriculture
Female % in Non-Agriculture
Female/Male Wage Ratio
Female % total working force
Female % among full time homemakers

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 (NLSS, 1995/96).

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/Male Ratio
Female Ownership of Property in percent to total
House, land and livestock
Operational Land Holdings (Hectares)
Male Headed Households
Female Headed Households
Proportion Illiterate
Male Heads
Female Heads
With Graduate and above Education
Male Heads
Female Heads

Political Status

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 parties
LSG Structure
---District Councils
---Village Councils
---Ward Committees
Government Administration\1
--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 House, 2002
1/ Figures relate to 1978, 1993 and 2000.
2/ Five nationally recognized parties (NC, UML, RPP, SJN, and NSP)
3/ Seven Parties in the Parliament (NC, UML, RPP, SJN, NSP and NPWP)

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 visible:

  • In-spite of the socio-economic constraints, many women representatives have participated effectively in LSG affairs and been able to influence the decision-making process.
  • 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, including trafficking.
  • 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 recon 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 for participation.

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.

III. Conclusions

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 ideology?

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 Partners

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 asking:

  • 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 our activities?
  • 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?


  • Acharya, Meena,(2000) Labor Market Developments and Poverty : with Focus on Economic Opportunities for women, TPMF and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Kathmandu.
  • Acharya, Meena, (1997a) (With Pushpa Acharya) Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, A Status Report, UNFPA, Kathmandu.
  • Acharya, Meena and Bennett, Lynn, (1981) An Aggregate Analysis and Summary of 8 Village Studies. The Status of Women in Nepal. Vole II, Part 9. CEDA, Kathmandu.
  • Central Bureau of Statistics, (1995) Population Monograph of Nepal, Kathmandu.
  • ............./NPC/HMG, (1996) Nepal Living Standards Survey, 1995/96. Main Findings Vol. I. & II. Kathmandu.
  • Asmita Publishing House (2002): Patrakarita ma Mahila Prashna (Nepali).
  • Viktoria Walter (2003): Practising Gender: The Tool Book, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Germany.
  • GDS\FES (1997): Women in Garment Industries, Kathmandu.
  • GEFONT ( 2001): Woman Participation in Nepali Labor Movement, Kathmandu.
  • -------------(2003): Search for Alternatives, Kathmandu.
  • Gurung, Jeannette, D. ( 1999) (Edt) Searching for Women's Voices in the Hindu Kush Himalayas , ICIMOD, Kathmandu.
  • HMG\N (1997): Local Self-Governance Act, 1997, Kathmandu.
  • INSEC (2002): Human Rights Report. Kathmandu.
  • New ERA (1998) A Situation Analysis of Sex Work and Trafficking in Nepal with Reference to Children, October 1996. Submitted to UNICEF, Nepal.
  • SAATHI and The Asia Foundation, (1997) A Situation Analysis of Violence Against Women and Girls in Nepal. Kathmandu.
  • United Nations ( 1995, 2002): Human Development Report.
  • UNDP (1998): National Gender Analysis on Elected and Nominated Women Ward Representative, Kathmandu.
  • National Planning Commission/HMG Sixth Five Year to Tenth Five Year Plans.
  • -------- (1996) Nepal Multiple Indicators Surveillance (NMIS): Primary Education Second Cycle, April-June 1995
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
The information on this site is subject to a
disclaimer and copyright notice.