Women’s voices of disgruntlement


Photo: RSS

The curve of equality is skewed towards men in Nepal, by creating a social construct of making women subservient to men, resulting into forms of gender based violence. The Preamble of the Constitution of Nepal strives for economic equality, prosperity, and social justice by eradicating discrimination based on class, caste, region, language, religion, and gender.[1] It also states ‘it stands against all forms of discrimination and oppression created by the feudalistic, autocratic, centralised, unitary system of governance’. The Constitution has guaranteed various constitutional rights that address gender inequality such as Article 18.[2] Article 38(5) further has provisions for positive discrimination towards women and ensures special opportunity for women in education, health, employment, and social security.[3] 

It also ensures that no woman shall be subjected to physical, mental, sexual, psychological, or other forms of violence or exploitation on grounds of religion, social, cultural tradition, practice or on any other grounds. This, in essence, works towards achieving substantive gender equality and incorporates not just the availability of opportunities to all but also to establish equality in outcomes. Gender-based violence (GBV) against women has been a major social problem reported both in the rural and the urban Nepal, which reflects the power structure that perforates gender equality in society.

Bhagrathi Rape Case

While the country was still reeling from the devastating incidents of Nirmala Panta’s and  Samjhana BK’s rape and murder cases, yet again it was hit by another similar case of rape and murder of Bhagrathi Bhatta. On February 3, the 17-year-old was raped and murdered brutally in Baitadi. Her body was recovered from the Tawalek Community Forest on February 4. The alarming incident ignited a public outrage. The government is notorious for turning a blind eye to crimes against women as the response in previous cases showed. There was a fear instilled in public that this particular case would also be left unresolved.

Nevertheless, in this case, the police carried out the investigation diligently and was able to arrest the alleged perpetrator on February 16. As per the alleged perpetrator’s confession, the crime was committed as an act of vengeance. Men’s masculinity has always been intrinsically tied to women’s bodies. A woman’s body is considered to be an embodiment of honour and hence, something that can be robbed. Customarily, women’s bodies have been treated as a moral compass. Thus, in a highly entrenched patriarchal society, women are subjected to disgraceful punishment for offenses they have not committed, and rape is being used as an instrument to establish male dominance over a women’s body and in society, in general.

Stringent Immigration Rule

On February 10, Department of Immigration recommended a proposal to the Home Ministry to bring about amendment to the visit visa provisions under the Immigration Procedure, 2065. The amendment proposal stipulated that women below the age of 40 would mandatorily require obtaining permit letters from father, husband, or son, as well as the ward to independently travel abroad under this visit visa. The particular amendment suggested a blanket ban on women travelling abroad. This led to massive public uproar, after which the proposal was amended and changed to ‘women under age of 40 travelling to Gulf and African regions.’

According to the Director of Immigration, such draconian rule was formulated to curb women trafficking. Over the past 30 years, the Government of Nepal has adopted different policies which have resulted in restricting women’s free, unhindered, and independent mobility. A complete ban on women migration was instituted until 2003. The ban was partially lifted in 2003 to allow women to migrate to work only in the formal sector, with domestic work still remaining banned. The ban was lifted in 2010 and again was imposed in 2012 to prevent any women below the age of 30 from travelling to the Middle East for domestic work. Bringing new rules of similar nature to control women’s liberty when there are pre-existing rules in place merely proves the inefficacy of such rules.

Imposing such bans on women violates her right to equality, freedom of practising any profession, mobility, employment, and freedom to choose the type of employment. Without legal routes, women tend to opt for alternative channels to travel abroad for employment purposes, which increase their vulnerability to human trafficking and labour exploitation.

The restrictive rules targeted to women only are contradictory to the Constitution of Nepal and various international conventions Nepal is party to. The protectionist approach that government has been taking up time and again undermines the rights and freedoms of women. The protectionist approach has curtailed the employment opportunities and liberty of movement. This approach does not address the problems but rather works to reinforce patriarchy and deepens gender inequality.

Women’s Mass Protest

The attempt to institutionalise patriarchy with the proposed immigration rules and consecutive brutal rape and murder cases of teenage girls struck the final blow on the continued oppression and violence against women that women were facing. On February 12, hundreds of women marched on the streets of Kathmandu, protesting against the violence against women and demanding justice for victims of such violence. The protest was a result of exasperation of women on the government’s inaction and callousness towards women’s issues. Women rebelled against the systemic violence and bureaucracy that upholds patriarchal notions and felt the need to break the chains that keep women on a leash to maintain the traditionally imposed sanctity.

The women-led movement was significant and duly required to remind the government that women are not mere subjects of the state and that they need to do away with regressive laws that attempt to establish authority over women.

[1] Preamble, the Constitution of Nepal, 2015.

[2] Article 18, the Constitution of Nepal, 2015.

[3] Article 38 (5), the Constitution of Nepal, 2015.

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