Changes on Rural Women in Nepal
The trend in marking International Women’s day is increasing. State and non-state actors are working and celebrating it in various ways and level. It has already 106 years of it’s inception globally. The slogan for 2016 is ‘Planet 50-50 by 2013: Step It Up for Gender Equality’ where as national slogan (Nepal) is ‘Let’s Put Constitution in to Action: Ensure the Women’s Right’. It’s very fantastic, emotional and determined slogan at both global and national level. Often, many people and media criticized for such celebration. To me, despite disagreement on modalities, it is very important event though all should work on women’s right throughout the year in 24/7. I always take a metaphor to explain this, why does Nepali community eat meat during new year eve that is been eating throughout the year. Simply, March 8, is a celebration of what we (society not only women) achieved on women’s human right and empowerment and what we would have to achieve for our next generation for equal and just society. Because the social transformation should be accelerating by development activities but not impossible and overnight business. Each idea, behaviour and attitude should be foundation for future with equality and just society. However, equality is wishful thinking indeed. Because the society like USA and Nepal is profoundly talking about the gender equality but the context has hanging in to two opposite poles and the context is dynamic where an unequal treatment between women, men and transgender is changing.
In 20 years’ official establishment of the Ministry of Women and Social Welfare in Nepal, there are many changes at the life of women as well as policy. But I constantly, questioning myself where and what changes are taking place at the life of rural women over more than 2 decades course of women’s right and empowerment in Nepal.
Yes, I do agree that there are many changes among rural women. The women’s mobility is increasing at least around village council office and headquarter of districts associated with political parties, NGO workers/leaders etc. They confidently can introduce by themselves, taking off head cover (veil), can speak in front of their family or men leaders in general. More importantly, the trend of reporting for physical violence is increasing. The physical presence of women is also seen at local level peculiar at non beneficial or challenging committees e.g. women got the leadership position or entire management when men constantly failed for good governance.
The other many changes also taken place on the life of rural women. They are overloaded and colonized by NGOs/ work. They are replacing their organic knowledge and skills by imposed NGO’s words and jargons. In most cases, rural women don’t have say because they occupied with humility in many cases due to no or low educational background, dressed up, use of technology and fear of missing opportunity which is a means of power in community. They also are dominating the other women or community people as getting response from state and non-state actors. They are working 16-20 hours a day and taking sole responsibility of their farm and family but no say even within family. For instance, they couldn’t go market or plant in farm without getting permission from their husband who is working aboard. Many rural women leaders attendant NGO’s work by working extra hours e.g. wake up at 4 am, by pleasing their husband and in laws, by bringing money or profit for the family. As mentioned above, women get out from home but faced various forms of threats including life killings due to speaking up or presented her as accountable person at the community. They are not deprived from the leg pulling culture by political parties and others. They are getting poorer due to heavily dominated by the modern poverty, globalization, traditional mode of production and poor access to and control over family resources. Mostly, they are working voluntarily and no any alternatives for sustainable livelihood or always struggling for meeting their basic needs. The minor or limited opportunities created by cooperatives and NGOs but mostly incompatible with their interest, capacity, needs and not really supporting for their economic viability. Further, rural women’s role is keeping up change due to constant disaster, epidemics and effect of climate change. Thus, the trend to going aboard is increasing among rural women as and for a livelihood option not by choice.
Indeed, rural women are backbone for the country in many ways. Sadly, they are recognized and featured as conflict provoker or peace broker at the family, community and everywhere from tea chitchat to ministerial/NGO’s discussion. Here, the mind set of state and non-state actors is very critical for bringing change at the life of rural women in a way and the other around. One size fits all or blanket policy never apply for empowerment of rural women which is the common practice among state and non-state actors at the name of projects. More importantly, the working for sole women or any particular group has already failed due to having homogeneity or limited opportunities for cross learning because human behaviour is learned through interaction and shaped by cultural practices largely. Thus, the recognition of rural/natural leaders and target individuals/groups, enhancing their specific knowledge and skills, engaging with dominating groups and celebrating the success are action points to empower rural women in Nepal.
PS: Forward to Kathmandu post for March 2016