Women’s rights activist Lily Thapa is a member of the National Human Rights Commission, the constitutional human rights watchdog. In this interview with Stuti Mittal of ApEx ahead of the International Women’s Day on March 8, she discusses the current status of Nepali women.
How do you evaluate Nepali women’s participation in key sectors?
Compared to 10 years ago, after the heralding of federalism, women’s participation has already exceeded 40 percent at the local level and 30 percent at the central level. Quantitatively, the target for women’s inclusion has been met. However, there is yet to be meaningful participation. Women’s voices are still being ignored despite their greater representation in key sectors.
What is the government doing to lift the status of women?
The government has taken many steps to lift the status of Nepali women. Following the Beijing Conference of 1995, a study on gender status evaluation was conducted from 1995 to 2015. It showed progress on indicators such as a higher level of women’s participation, inclusiveness, and diversity.
The fact that women’s rights are enshrined as fundamental rights in the constitution is a major step towards improving women’s status in Nepal. Not just that. There are separate points on reproductive rights, mobility and gender equality in the constitution, which too is a milestone.
Between 1995 and 2015, over 167 policies were amended and legal reforms enacted in terms of gender equality. There has been a decline in maternal mortality from 600 per 100,000 live births to 140 per 100,000 births, a rise in women’s life expectancy from 50 to 70, and an increase in their access to land and property.
Since the implementation of affirmative policies over the past two decades, about 20 percent Nepali women own land and over 13 percent have a house registered in their names.
Why are Nepali women still not entrusted with leadership roles?
The biggest culprit is expected gender roles. Women who are professionals and in leadership roles are still expected to fulfill their household duties. Though women are considered equal by the law, the stereotypes have not changed. During past elections, women were unable to lead electoral campaigns as they had to be home by the time their children came back from school. While much progress has been made in the past two decades, gender discrimination is still rampant.
How do you compare Nepal to other South Asian countries in terms of women’s rights?
In comparison to other South Asian countries, Nepal has the best women’s rights policies after Sri Lanka. Gender policies, laws and national action plans are women friendly too. Nepal may not be ahead of other countries on women literacy and economic empowerment, but progress is being made.
What are the areas Nepal needs to improve on for greater gender equality?
The first and foremost thing that needs to change is people’s perception of women who are still considered second-class citizens. This is something deeply rooted in our culture. It’s vital to change people’s mindset in order for women to be treated equally. The policies and plans are there of course, but their implementation remains weak. Progress has been made over the past two decades. This process takes time and there should be constant advocacy. Slowly but surely, Nepal will one day achieve the desired level of gender equality.