Women's Economic Empowerment in Nepal

Gender equality in Nepal

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. 

Key reading

NEPAL: Country Gender Profile. Bhadra, Chandra, and Mani Thapa Shah(2007).

Gender Inequality Index. United Nations Development Programme (2014. hdr.undp.org

Gender Relations In Nepal Overview. CARE International (2015).

The Social World Of Nepalese Women Luitel, Samira (2001). Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology.

Property Right Of Nepalese Women. Pradhan Malla, Sapana. nepaldemocracy.org

Understanding Gender And Power Dynamics Within The Family: A Qualitative Study Of Nepali Women's Experience Regmi, Kiran., Smart, Rebekah. and Kottler, Jeffrey (2010). Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT)

The research

Our analysis of women's economic empowerment programmes in Nepal contributes to recommendations about how a 'double boon' can be created, i.e. decent paid work that provides support for unpaid care work responsibilities, along with removal of barriers to entry and retention in the labour market.

The research in Nepal has been undertaken by the Institute of Social Studies Trust.

Uptake and advocacy

Read about Oxfam Nepal's advocacy and dissemination activities

Case studies

Our research seeks to learn from the experiences of women benefiting from the state-led Karnali Employment Programme (KEP) in Oxfam's Enterprise Development Programme (EDP), a non-state programme in Bheri. View all our case studies from Nepal.

WEE Programmes 

Karnali Employment Programme (KEP): A public works based social protection scheme that offers ‘one family one job’ in one of the least developed regions in Nepal. Despite a focus on including different groups, there have been concerns including women’s participation in the programme, which has remained low. Through the Karnali Employment Technical Assistance consortium, efforts are being made to address these concerns.

Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Programme (EDP): Provides business-focused solutions to help entrepreneurs work their way out of poverty. In Bheri, EDP supports a large number of women in the seed growing business.

Programmatic notes

  • Care Responsiveness of Livelihoods Programming: The Enterprise Development Programme, Oxfam Nepal 
    Nepal, June 2017
  • Making Karnali Employment Programme More Care-Responsive
    Nepal, June 2017

National report

A Trapeze Act: Women Balancing Paid Work and Unpaid Care Work in Nepal

Ghosh, A., Singh, A. and Chigateri, S. ,  October 2017

Despite high rates of labour force participation by women in Nepal, there has been very little engagement by communities and the state on the issue of women’s ‘double burden’ of balancing unpaid care work with paid labour activities. The ‘Balancing paid work and unpaid care work – Nepal’ research study aims to create knowledge about how women’s economic empowerment (WEE) policy and programming can generate a ‘double boon’, i.e. paid work that empowers women and provides more support to their unpaid care work responsibilities. Research discussed in this report looks at two WEE programmes in Nepal: (1) a state programme, the Karnali Employment Programme; and (2) a non-state programme, Oxfam Nepal’s Enterprise Development Programme.

One of the stark conclusions of the study is that women are currently unable to balance their paid and unpaid care work due to several factors: the lack of availability of decent employment opportunities in rural areas; a lack of quality public resources and services; migration of men; a lack of assets such as land; and prevailing gender norms, especially around women’s participation in unpaid care work and mobility. The report makes recommendations at state, non-state, market, community and family levels. Programmes aimed at women’s empowerment need to have a care perspective in their design and implementation, and grass-roots-level communication and advocacy needs to be encouraged and implemented, in order to reduce women’s ‘double burden’ and move towards a’ double boon’.

Latest updates

Emerging findings from an IDS-led project on Balancing unpaid care work and paid work, part of the global Growth and Equal Opportunities for Women programme (GrOW), has thrown fresh insights into women’s “double-burden” – the responsibility assigned to them of being primarily responsible for care in their home and the need to earn income. 

Case studies provide a ground-level view of the physical, emotional and mental toll on individual women’s lives resulting from long hours spent on back-breaking unpaid household chores, such as collecting and carrying firewood, caring for children or the sick and elderly, and (often manual) paid work such as stone-breaking.

12.09.16Participatory methods in mixed methods research – a methodological treasure

Since the inception of the GrOW project, on unpaid care work and women´s economic empowerment, the team mixed three strands of research methods – qualitative, quantitative and participatory.What added value do participatory methods bring to mixed methods research? Kas Sempere writes about the particular professional challenges of methods in the project taking place in India, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania.

03.05.16Invisible work: unpaid care work in Nepal

Anjam Singh, a research consultant for the Institute of Social Studies Trust, Delhi, reflects on the role of unpaid care work in women’s economic empowerment within Nepal and its importance in the wider development discourse following its inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals.