Shivani Chemjong has a decade-long experience in broadcast journalism and has worked with major brands like CNN, NDTV and Kantipur television. She joined the development field in 2017 and is currently the communications and campaigns lead at WaterAid Nepal, where the programmatic approach puts human rights at its core. Shivani Chemjong shares her views on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2022 which is being celebrated with the theme “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.
Relevance of the theme
The Government of Nepal has been working to incorporate gender equality through various rights and policies and some progress has definitely been made. But the overall improvement is a long road ahead. It is not a surprise for us that women face gender biases even at home, let alone their professional work. They lag behind in access to education, health services, freedom and even decision-making process in some households.
Women and girls are burdened with household chores and various other restrictions. This has resulted in high risks of dropping out of school. Women in various parts of Nepal spend hours fetching water from the source for their families. This again has deprived them of education and other opportunities.
Women have also been victims of various harmful traditional practices like Chaupadi, where they are forced to stay in the shed during menstruation. These are just some of the examples. But they are also the constant reminder that change is needed. Even though women have attained leadership positions and have been at par with the men in some of the cases, we as individuals are responsible to work to make our country a more equal place for all genders.
WaterAid Nepal’s programmatic approach puts human rights at its core and it comprises three main components: empowerment, sector strengthening and partnership. Empowerment stresses enhanced capacity of marginalized groups and individuals and people in vulnerable situations, so that they can take action for sustainable WASH through an informed understanding of their rights to water and sanitation. Sector strengthening builds on our belief that to deliver sustainable services, an accountable and responsive WASH sector, which has the capabilities to deliver at scale, is needed. For sustainable and equitable WASH, we believe partnership with a range of actors including with government institutions, NGOs and private sector play a fundamental role. Thus we will seek to work with a diverse range of actors to promote sustainable development and access to WASH.
Despite constant efforts of lobbying to eliminate gender-based violence from human rights and women’s rights development organizations, it persists in Nepal.
Human rights-based approach, also called HRBA, has been a part of our programmatic approach. As rights have corroborative obligations on their part and accountability is the key to the fulfillment of the rights, WAN seeks to make the rights holders and duty bearers aware of their rights and responsibilities and train them on social accountability tools. Besides, the capacity to take actions to fulfill the rights is equally important, so we also support in providing and enhancing technical capacity of both the rights holders and duty bearers so that sustainable services could be ensured. In addition, we also bring all the stakeholders together in promoting WASH-related rights and foster partnership among them and make an enabling environment for WASH promotion.
Areas to address
There are several areas where interventions are required to ensure gender equality and equity.
The first such area is gender-based violence against women. Despite constant efforts of lobbying to eliminate gender-based violence from human rights and women’s rights development organizations, it persists in Nepal. Women are vulnerable to domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment at workplace and so on. Most of these are largely attributed to social taboos and superstitions like Chaupadi. These traditional harmful activities are life-threatening and need to be eradicated. In rural communities, an estimated 81 percent of women experience recurring domestic violence, which include physical abuse by husbands, polygamy and psychological harassment by family members. These have given rise to depression and mental instability of women.
Second area is equal opportunity in education. Education is a human right and the government is responsible to ensure good quality education to all. Since good quality education largely lies in the hands of the private sector, parents who cannot afford to pay large amounts of money for private schools often choose to send the boys to private schools and the girls are deprived of good quality education in public schools.
Then comes the issue of equal access to health services. National health policies need to be updated to prioritize equal access to healthcare for all. Even though some progress has been made in this sector in the last decade, many still lag behind in access to healthcare. Special investment is needed to address all the barriers to reduce inequalities.
Vision for future
Women’s rights movement is around 100 years old. This movement has made great progress. However, there has not been a fundamental shift on the status of women in Nepal. In my opinion, there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to attain gender equality. Ten years down the line, I would like to see the women’s rights movement become stronger enough to address issues like sexual violence. I would like to see a change in the way men look at women’s bodies. I would like to see more women in leadership positions.
Break the barriers
Gender inequality is innate in our culture and is thriving in our environment even at home, let alone the professional world. Women are burdened with household chores and yet they manage time to excel in their careers. It is now time to break the barriers and gender stereotypes and be the change. Women have come up in leadership positions and have been competing with men in various fields. But in the majority of households gender biases still exist and women have to take care of the kitchen and family. Men should take charge and make an enabling environment to be more equal.
I wish Happy Women’s Day to all the strong, intelligent, talented and wonderful women. Don’t ever forget that you are loved and appreciated. Keep finding your balance and breaking the biases.