Nepal has made great strides towards gender equality in recent years and has relatively high levels of women participating in the labour force. However, opportunities for improvement remain.
Nepal has been categorised by the World Bank as one of the poorest countries in the world. It was ranked 145 in the 2014 Human Development Index, out of 187 countries. As in many other cultures, Nepal remains a patriarchal society.
Women’s access to education, economic, and political resources is severely limited. The Global Gender Gap report 2013, compiled by the World Economic Forum, ranks Nepal 121 amongst 136 countries. The issues faced by Nepalese women, and their social and economic situations, vary greatly depending on geographical region, caste, class, religion, ethnicity and where they live.
There is a huge number of economically active women in Nepal who have no access to economic resources. Three quarters of the unpaid family labour force is comprised of women. A larger proportion of women (76 per cent) than men (50 per cent) are engaged in agricultural work, household based extended economic activities and household maintenance work. A lack of formal employment or alternative livelihood opportunities restrain women’s participation in the country’s economic growth, as well as discounting their contributions to it. Gender norms mean that women continue to undertake a disproportionate level of unpaid care tasks which in turn constrains their choice, including type and location, of paid work.
Patriarchal attitudes are also reflected at the level of the state and the legal system. Women lack access to and control over productive resources such as land, forest, credit, technology and enterprises. The right to property is fragile and temporary, despite the guarantee of the fundamental ‘right to equality’ in the country’s constitution, regardless of race, caste, and sex. Legally, a daughter is not entitled to familiar property and a woman is entitled to her husband’s property not as an independent co-partner, but because she is his wife. The denial of property rights by the state represents a stark double standard.
There has however been significant work to reduce gender inequality. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare has a strong women development programme focused on encouraging the agency of hundreds of thousands of women in rural Nepal. It represents a focused, nationwide anti-poverty intervention. It has also been noted for its unique approach to social mobilisation, institutional building and, of late, rural business promotion.
The country programme strategy 2013 -2017 identifies gender inequity as a major social problem for Nepal. The overall goal of the strategy is to directly address the three main sets of inequity factors (political, system, societal) so that all children, adolescents and women have access to education, health care, nutrition, sanitation, clean water, protection, information, and other services necessary to fulfil their rights to survival, development, protection and participation.