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National Consultative Workshop on Gender Based Violence in Nepal

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES Nepal)

19 December , Lalitpur

Report prepared by Kosh Raj Koirala


On 19th December, 2013, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Nepal (FES) organized a National Consultative Workshop on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Nepal to review the efforts made so far and measures to be taken in the days ahead to address the issue. The Workshop was organized mainly with the aim of receiving feedback and recommendations from concerned stakeholders so that they could be presented in the South Asia Gender Summit to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in the beginning of 2014.

Nepal has made strong normative and legal commitments to ending gender-based violence and inequality. It has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), thereby legally binding itself to put the CEDAW provisions into practice. A Domestic Violence Act and a five-year national strategy and action plan for ending gender-based violence have also been put in place. Despite such commitment on the part of the government, women in Nepal continue to face various forms of gender-based violence, including instances of physical, sexual, psychological, socio-cultural and economic violence. In most cases, males are found to be behind such cases of gender based violence in Nepal.

Against this context, the Workshop drew a large number of male as well as female participants from various walks of life. This was exceptional, because it has been a longstanding trend to invite only female participants in programs related to gender-based violence. The workshop chaired by constitutional expert Kashi Raj Dahal had separate presentations by woman activist Bandana Rana, woman leader of CPN-UML Binda Pandey, journalist Babita Basnet, advocate Rup Narayan Shrestha, Nepal Director at SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu Dhan Bahadur Oli and Nepal Police Spokesperson Ganesh KC. These presentations were followed by lively floor discussions. While woman activist and journalist Arati Chataut welcomed participants and introduced the objectives of the program, FES Nepal Director Dev Raj Dahal had wrapped up the program with his concluding remarks.

At the outset of the program, a 10-minute long documentary-- "Silence Speaks'- was shown to the participants to better set the real context of the program. The FES Gender Coordinator Samira Paudel, who played instrumental role in planning, coordinating and organizing the workshop, briefly described about various forms of gender-based violence prevalent in Nepal to help acquaint the audience with the theme of the workshop. She briefly introduced about how FES started and its areas of work. She also explained about the South Asia Gender Summit which takes place every year in different venue and topic. She said that even if there were some achievements made in terms of gender friendly laws and policies in Nepal, women are still becoming the victim of patriarchic attitude and the power structure. She mentioned that gender justice is a real mechanism to achieve social justice therefore; violence against women has to be stopped to achieve gender justice. She mentioned that this consultative workshop was planned to have a proper discussion and interaction with stakeholders which can find solution to minimize deeply rooted discrimination and the support of growing awareness can lead to modern and fair politics in Nepal.

Presentation

While welcoming the participants and presenters in the program, Aarati Chataut briefly mentioned the recent 16-day long campaign on VAW that Nepal observed with various programs. She said that one in three women is subjected to violence of one form or the other and the deaths of woman aged between19 to 44 worldwide are caused due to violence according to a UN report. Stating that Nepal is no exception to this horrible situation, she emphasized on the need to bring a structural decentralization of powers to ensure women's rights and also end gender based violence in Nepal.

Chataut was of the opinion that empowerment of women is key to ending all forms of gender-based violence. While urging the government to adopt both long term and short term measures to this end, she suggested the government to continue with the policy of positive discrimination at least for next 50 years as a long-term measure and give women special protection in all sectors through various government interventions as short term measure. She expressed her worry that new Constituent Assembly may not have even 33 percent representation of women despite commitment from both the government and political parties in the past.

On the occasion, she also highlighted the fact that some of the laws existing in the country do not provide justice to women especially in the cases relating to domestic violence and urged the concerned government bodies to bring amendments in those laws with due urgency.

In her keynote speech, Bandana Rana expressed happiness that the workshop had 'new' stakeholders including males. Stating that it had been already 30 years since she started working for women-related issues, she briefly explained her personal experience since she joined Nepal Television as news anchor in 1986 and started being involved in women's activism four years later. She argued that societal norms and values, as well as institutional environments have a decisive role in shaping the personal growth of a woman as an individual or as a professional.

Referring to a typical social practice in some part of Nepal to confine women undergoing first-time menstruation in dark chamber for 21 days and tendency of society to give women subordinate roles even at work, she argued that these kinds of social and cultural practices have only left women to feel inferior to their male counterparts. Male members are not only prepared by the society to face challenge but are also allowed higher degree of freedom so that they can easily meet and interact with decision makers, giving them the prospect of early promotion and other advantages.

Rana, while expressing satisfaction that the movement against gender based violence had gained a momentum in Nepal in recent years, pointed out the need to develop support mechanisms so that women facing violence can speak up against their perpetrators and bring such persons to justice. She said that her organization SAATHI had first taken initiative to set up one such shelter in 1995. "More than 99 percent women have to undergo sexual violence. This could be big or simple form of violence," she said while highlighting the urgency to make additional efforts to address the issue.

She maintained that the situation is not that disappointing, though. "Women have started speaking up against domestic violence. The level of awareness among women has increased. I see a rosy picture ahead," she said. She noted that new partnership with men and sport players to end GBV have started yielding positive results. The year 2010, according to her, was a significant year as this marked the introduction of five-year strategic plan to address GBV.

In a separate context, she said that there is still no clarity among women activists on the issue of the LGBT. "We will need to work on this as well. Nothing will happen unless we work towards changing our attitudes and behaviors," she added.

Rana's critical assessment on gender based violence was followed by a presentation by CPN-UML leader Binda Pandey, who shed light on the GBV issues from labor perspective. While expressing satisfaction that the GBV issue had been raised by different stakeholders in recent years, she explained that women are still subjected to both physical and psychological violence in the workplaces and outside. She said that the state should be able to provide women with a political identity so that they can start to address the issues. Arguing that economic independence alone cannot ensure abolition of all forms and manifestations of gender based violence, she added that participation of women in all state structures was a must to achieve this end.

She emphasized ensuring the participation of at least 33 percent women in state structures as per the commitment made by political parties. "How we act is important that what we think to address the VAW," she said while urging political parties to take special considerations to ensure at least 33 percent women's participation in the new Constituent Assembly (CA).

Highlighting the fact that women are subjected to violence largely due to societal norms and values, Pandey said that Nepalese society tends to provide special protection to male members while denying women of such opportunities, including the rights to property. She mentioned that there is discrimination in terms of wage between males and females for the same work and both society and state have failed to recognize the value of household works done by women. "Women do not need reservation or preference if there is a commitment from all concerned stakeholders to provide equal status in all activities," she said. She added that state has to recognize the contribution made by women to ensure them social justice. "Only then can we expect to end violence against women in society," she further said. "We need to avoid practices like Chhaupadi and the national curriculum in the schools also need to incorporate issues relating to menstruation."

While adding that working class women continue to be voiceless even these days, Pandey said that there is a tendency to assassinate the character of women who speak against physical and psychological violence meted out to them. "Working class women are forced to undergo violence in the name of witches. Neither the state listens to their cry, nor does the society," she lamented.

Pandey emphasized on the need to redistribute power to ensure equity of women, and to forge partnerships with males, as well as those in the top management of industries and business enterprise in the campaign to end gender based violence."Social transformation is not possible without ensuring the participation of women, because they consist half of the total population in the country," she concluded.

In his brief remarks on the issue, Nepal Director at SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu Dhan Bahadur Oli wished that Nepal could take a leadership role in ending gender based violence in South Asia. He said that the issue could be raised at the regional level in coordination with SAARC Secretariat.

While highlighting the various conventions and the Social Charter adopted by SAARC to deal with cases of gender based violence including women trafficking, Oli said that all member states have also prepared their respective action plan to address the issue. "Each member state has also formed national coordination committee to implement them. But our efforts to hold the meeting of those committees has not yet been successful," he said.

Oli suggested concerned stakeholders in Nepal to hold serious discussions on the issue as Nepal is hosting the 18th SAARC Summit. He also pointed out the need to align national plans and programs on eradication of violence against women with those of the SAARC. "Nepal can inspire other countries in this field as Nepal is doing relatively well on the issue," he said.

What followed Oli's remarks was an attempt of advocate Rup Narayan Shrestha to highlight the existing laws in Nepal to address the issue of GBV. Shrestha argued that though Nepal has introduced various laws to address the issue concerning gender based violence over the past two decades the implementation status of those laws and the constitutional provisions remains dismal. He argued that judicial activism in Nepal had helped remove many laws that were discriminatory to women including their rights to property.

Shrestha mentioned that the rights to property to women guaranteed by the Interim Constitution 2007, rights to abortion, provision of 33 percent reservation to women in all state structures, changes in the laws and act to ensure gender equality, increase of the jurisdiction of anti human trafficking law and formulation of separate law to deal with domestic violence against women are among important milestones in legal reforms towards ending the cases of GBV in Nepal.

Shrestha said there is, however, nothing except a verdict of Supreme Court on LGBTs."There are still some lapses in the existing laws. While the statute of limitation to file cases against those involved in rape is just 35 days, our laws still do not fully recognize the guardianship of women in families," he added. He pointed out the need to formulate necessary laws as many women are subjected to violence due to the internet and social networking sites in recent years. He noted that they face challenges to address cases of domestic violence against women as many such cases do not even come to the public. What's worse, according to Shrestha, is that there are no appropriate laws to deal with sexual harassments against women in the work places and in other public places. "Women's access to justice at the grass root level and lack of effective compensation arrangement to those facing violence are also among the challenges to curb the instances of violence against women," he added.

Senior journalist Babita Basnet argued that Nepali media have grown very sensitive towards responsible journalism. While newspapers and televisions have stopped publishing or telecasting photos and real names of rape victims, they have also begun giving adequate space to incidents related to violence against women. She noted that awareness level of women has increased lately and several discriminatory laws and acts have been amended due to media campaign."Though there are some wrong tendencies on the part of media to glorify the cases of women working in restaurants, bars and massage parlors, such tendencies are also changing gradually," she said.

Basnet asserted that women in Nepal continue to face mental and physical violence and in many cases they even have to undergo character assassination when they speak up against violence perpetrated by male members. While acknowledging that there is still a big gap in women's access to the media, she also pointed out the need to give due attention even to the violence perpetrated by women to men. She was of the opinion that some laws including the one related to divorce is discriminatory to men, and it is more difficult for husbands to get divorce than it is for wives.

Nepal Police Spokesperson Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ganesh KC said that Nepal Police is highly sensitive to the issues relating to gender based violence. Stating that Nepal Police started recruiting women personnel since 1996 and that their number now stands at 4,100, he added that though the violence related to sex and property is perpetrated by males, violence against women is also perpetrated by one woman onto another. "We will need to look at this aspect too," he said.

KC argued that special attention needs to be given to improve economic condition of women and educational level needs to be enhanced to increase their awareness. The Police on its part, KC said, is doing its best by imparting necessary training and skills to its personnel and developing a separate Standards of Operation (SOP) to deal with cases of gender based violence.

KC said Nepal Police, among other things, has provided training on GBV to some 600 police personnel as a part of the National Action Plan, prepared training manuals and focused on creating woman friendly environment through gender responsive programs. "We have also introduced victims support program to effectively limit cases of GBV," he said while assuring that any official in the Nepal Police showing reluctance to deal with GBV cases would be relieved from the duty. He mentioned that they are facing difficulties to address the issue as witnesses to the cases of GBV often turn hostile.

Discussions

Several participants either posed questions or gave feedback and comments to the presenters during the floor discussions. While asking the reason behind the small number of women in the Nepal Police, Narendra Khatiwada of Youth Advocacy argued that women may be perpetrating violence against women due to the structure of society itself. He pointed out the need to ensure meaningful representation of women in politics to end such a situation.

Likewise, Nirmala Dhungana argued that the issues of religious as well as ritual violence need to be addressed while talking about violence against women. Adding that unequal power relation between males and females is also partly to be blamed for this state, she said that the violence against women won't be curbed unless the perpetrators of such violence during the conflict period are brought to justice.

While Indira Ale asked questions as to how many women head the UML's district level committees, another participant Bijaya Dahal suggested the presenters to include even the issue of trans-gender groups in the discourse of gender based violence. Likewise, Krishna Adhikari suggested studying the cases of gender violence based on geographical regions and those reported in different medium of mass media.

Rupa Acharya commented that the situation of women working in informal sector was pitiable. She said that these women neither have social status, nor do they have political access. "There is discrimination in both work and wages. This also needs to be addressed to solve gender based violence," she added.

While highlighting the cases of structural and cultural violence against women, another participant Chiranjeevi Bhandari expressed worry that the issue of 'decoupling' instead of 'recoupling' was growing high in Nepalese society. He maintained that relations building should get priority in post-conflict society like one in Nepal.

Sita Rupakheti said that discussions should instead focus on how to implement the provisions that are already guaranteed by the laws. She argued that it is not easy to exercise rights without fighting for them.

Likewise, Indira Sharma argued that the cases of violence against women are mainly caused due to existing social structure and attitude of people. While maintaining that implementation of existing laws are very weak, she suggested concerned stakeholders to ensure that their program on awareness and empowerment of women have reached to grass root level.

Faculty at Tribhuvan University Gobinda Narayan argued that the issue of violence against women was intrinsically related to economic independence of women. He added that the approach to look at women's problems needed a change and that many issues deemed trivial such as girls' toilet in school and during long distance travel in bus were important to women. Narayan Bahadur Thapa argued that foreign employment was necessary evil as this has been one of the main reasons behind growing instances of violence against women in Nepal. He was of the opinion that preventive measures could be adopted to curb such instances of violence through community mobilization.

While Munni Sharma emphasized the need to ensure strong implementation mechanisms of existing laws, another participant Laxmi Karki argued that state intervention was a must to ensure political and legal identity of women to curb the instances of violence against women. Ram Sharan Luintel highlighted the need to introduce civic education programs that include courses related to gender based violence in secondary level education. Bijaya Prasain posed a question if women in Nepal are really fighting for equity or for reservation. Mohan Raj Joshi argued that many women such as Badi group are forced to face sexual violence due to lack of any alternative means to fulfill their basic necessities.

Likewise, Sushila KC of Yuwalaya argued that women are subjected to discrimination due to perceived threat of sexual harassment to them. She added that the discourse on gender based violence painfully misses the debate as to how women could be kept safe. Another participant Bishnu Gurung said that a sizeable amount of budget allocated by Ministry of Local Development had failed to reach to poor women at the grass root level. He argued that divorce had actually invited various problems into women's lives.

Conclusion/Recommendations

The workshop arrived at various conclusions, which were endorsed by the gathering. The conclusions include:

  1. Existing social structure and the roles that society has determined to women have played important role to make women face various forms of violence. Due consideration needs to be given to change the existing patriarchal social structure and the attitude that exists among people through awareness programs.
  2. Though the constitution and government plans, policies, and strategies have tried to address the gender based violence, implementation aspect of those constitutional and legal provisions is very weak. This calls for strong implementation of existing laws to curb the cases of gender based violence.
  3. The Government should take proactive initiatives to implement the international conventions, treaties and covenants related to women to which Nepal is a party.
  4. The condition of women won't improve until and unless the participation of women within the organizational structures of political parties is increased.
  5. The cases of violence against women during decade-long Maoist conflict need to be investigated thoroughly and the guilty behind such incidents need to be brought to justice based on the principle of transitional justice system.
  6. Government needs to formulate new laws such as one to deal with cyber crimes-the lack of which has made women vulnerable to face violence.
  7. The statute of limitation for filing case in heinous crimes like rape needs to be increased from existing 35 days.
  8. Women's access to the judicial system and media needs to be increased to curb violence against women.
  9. The practice of media to assassinate the character of women based on false information needs to be discouraged.
  10. Coordination and cooperation among all sectors could help to curb the cases of gender based violence.
  11. A curriculum on Civic Education that includes the issue of gender based violence needs to be incorporated in secondary level textbooks to create a society based on gender equity.
  12. Judges and justices need to be provided with training and orientation to make them more sensitive to the issues related to violence against women.
  13. Officials in government agencies need to change their response to cases of VAW.
  14. Additional efforts need to be made to create gender friendly work place for women.
  15. Meaningful participation of women in all state structures including in political parties and their access to resources are key to end the cases of gender based violence
 
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