The discriminatory cultural and social norms of Nepalese society still play a dominating role in governing the lives of Nepalese women. There continues to be a widening gap in the ability for women to interact positively within their society. Many women frequently face issues around health, education, lack of income, self-confidence, the ability to make self decisions, access to policy making and human rights.
The health status of Nepali people is one of the lowest in the South Asian region and this is highly emphasizes within the female population. Not only is the average life expectancy for females significantly lower than those of men, many young women also faces issues of premature pregnancy due to marrying young. About one fifth of women are married between the ages to 15-19. High birth rates, low life expectancy, high infant and maternal mortality rates have reflected the poor health status of women in Nepal.
The economic statuses of women continue to be hindered by the fact that “women’s work” is still not recognized as a part of economic productivity. As a result only 45.2 per cent of women as oppose to 68.2 per cent of men are classified as economically active. In addition, women’s participation in the informal sector has increased significantly in both urban and rural areas – for example vending, petty trade liquor making and vegetable selling are often common means for women to find income. In rural areas women tend to be limited to jobs around planting, weeding, and harvesting, while in urban areas many find themselves employed in low level positions and jobs that are predominately viewed as women’s work.
Over 70% of women workers are confined to self-employed, unpaid and low-wage informal sector work with few formal job opportunities. The problems faced by women in the job market stem from a number of factors including stereotypical roles confining women to the household, limited access to education and skill/vocational training, exploitative and unsafe working conditions, discriminatory wage rates, sexual harassment at work and discrimination in employment opportunities.
Women in Nepal work for longer hours than men, have fewer opportunities for gainful employment, and possess limited property rights. In addition many women are expected to juggle multiple roles both inside and outside the family home, including reproduction, caring for the family home and generating income to support the household. In spite of the vastly important contributions women make for their family homes, their low income earning status and the absence of right to property have limited the role of women in their ability to make decisions the allocation of household income.
The majority of the women in Nepal are overworked, uneducated and under privileged. They sorely lack self-confidence and consistently consider their status as below men due to the attitudes of the prevailing cultural societal norm. Many continue to carry the weight of the caste system, the pressure of the dowry system, and the guilt of being a burden to their family.
In the Nepali culture if a husband dies, she faces the horrors of widowhood and in many cases in the villages means being completely hated by their family and community. Widows are often kicked out of their in-laws homes and if they are allowed to remain, they are given ever-decreasing portions of food and resources. Many restrictions are also placed on the women as the underlying assumption is that the man is her other half and if he is no longer around she also should not want to be living a full life.
In too many cases these women may be victims of both physical and mental abuse. Many women are bound to live a life that is detrimental to their well being and that of their children. It often perpetuates a cycle of ignorance and dependence which is carried on generation after generation.
The deprivation of education and job opportunities has made it difficult for many Nepali women to break out of the cycle. At Everest Foundation Nepal we recognize the need to not only educate but also to provide a safe support network or the women of Nepal.
We have established literacy classes, vocational training, income generation program, regular health checkup and health awareness programs for the women in Nepal. Through our program more than 50 women are getting opportunity to enhance their Nepali and English reading writing and mathematical skill and as well as opportunities to develop income generating skills. It is our hope to continue to build and provide a safe space for women to grow and learn essential skills for themselves so that they may break the generations of ignorance and dependency and gain better control over their lives and betterment of their children’s lives.
Marielle Harrison, USA