Any kind of political turmoil in a country hinders its civil progress and business. In Nepal, we stand at a critical crossroad in terms of ensuring gender equality. While Nepal’s progress in conforming to international treaties on gender equality and civil and political rights of women is commendable, the recent attempt of travel restriction on women marks a roadblock to the progress we have made in the past decades.
Travel control may only be one symbolic event that sets a path towards other oppressions and continues to derail the past progress. It is hard to predict what other constraints may be forced upon Nepali women. With the ongoing political turmoil combined with the Covid-19 crisis in the country, the key agenda of addressing the existing gender disparity may take a backseat.
As is the case, during the times of crisis—natural or political—the progress made in ensuring the rights and privileges of the minorities suffers first. We have seen it with the earthquakes in 2015, and we have seen it with the Covid-19 pandemic. In both cases, women were disproportionally affected. They remained primary caregivers, taking on the burden of raising a family and caring for elderly—both unpaid work. They were also the primary victims of financial and employment loss, and the last to regain autonomy while recovering from such crisis. In the past year alone, with the onset of Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdown, burden on women has increased. With the work-from-home modality, women are taking on a bigger burden of balancing professional and personal life.
Responsibilities such as following up on children’s academic needs with distant learning, as well as homemaking fell overtly on women. Similarly, with proximity and excessive time spent at home during the lockdown, reports of increasing instances of domestic violence have surfaced. There have been rare efforts to find the solutions to these pressing problems.
It makes no sense to talk about gender equality when women make up over half of the total population and yet we have considered 33 percent representation of women in political bodies as optimum limit.
As the political crisis drags on, the parties look focused on managing the internal conflicts, leaving behind many other important issues. Women’s problems rarely become the agenda for the political parties.
Nepal has a long history of imposing laws to curb women’s rights and freedom of movement. From Panchayat era to all the way down to 2006, women’s mobility, international travels in particular, was restricted. With the abolition of monarchy and establishment of the republic, the travel restrictions and labor migration regulations for women were lifted. But the recent efforts made by Department of Immigration to restrict women’s travel indicates that the progress made in the post-monarchy era might be reversed. While the rest of the world is giving stronger emphasis on equality for women and the minorities (sexual and gender minorities and people living with disabilities), in Nepal, we seem to be heading the opposite way.
The 2015 constitution has already deprived women the right to transfer citizenship to their children, if they are married to foreigners. The travel restriction for women below of 40, which was justified in the name of curbing trafficking, does not help unless the internal nexus of recruiters and their agents is dismantled. While numerous protests were held in the days following the announcement by the Department of Immigration, the travel ban is actually in effect.
There is no time to lose. We have less than nine years to achieve 2030 development agenda. The events such as travel restriction, rising cases of rape, incidents of domestic violence and discriminatory practices in professional settings will hinder achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality.
Both public and private sectors need to change their gender policies, while hiring workers or at the management level. From early on, schools need to impart the education on gender equality. While globally more girls than boys are receiving higher education, in Nepal, we lag behind particularly in addressing the higher drop-out rates among girls.
It makes no sense to talk about gender equality when women make up over half of the total population and yet we have considered 33 percent representation of women in political bodies—which still remains unimplemented—as optimum limit. We at least need 50 percent representation of women in parliament. Once we can do this, it will have a trickledown effect in other sectors.
While women cover over half of the sky, our systems and policies still continue to favor boys and men over girls and women. Having one or two women in the position of power will not change the system that has prevailed for over two centuries, but it is a necessary step towards the right direction.
Sakun Gajurel is a humanitarian and development sector professional.