The government of Nepal is all set to celebrate International Women’s Day with the national theme of ‘Women’s Security, Respect and Employment: Basic for Prosperity’ today. However, despite the celebration of achievements, Nepali women still face discrimination on the basis of gender on various fronts. Below discussed are three major pertinent issues that women have been facing in accessing justice, their legal measures and practical challenges:
The introduction of the Domestic Violence (Offence and Punishment) Act, 2009, was taken as a milestone in addressing domestic violence in Nepal. The act describes domestic violence, addressing its various forms: physical, mental, sexual and economic or emotional harm. It also prescribes punishment with the fine starting from Rs 3,000 to Rs 25,0000 or imprisonment or a six-month jail sentence or both (Section 13).
However, the law does not sufficiently protect the rights of women and girls. For example, it does not cover gender-based violence happening online. Statistics from various non-government organisations working against the violence depict a high rise of such cases during the pandemic.
Workplace discrimination harassment
Technological advancement has been followed by the speedy growth of opportunities for employees. However, the opportunities are disproportionately distributed. Although the constitution of Nepal has a provision of the right to equality in its article 18, discrimination in the workplace is rampant in forms discrimination in the form of sex, race, disability, age, nation of origin, and colour to name a few. Further, the Labor Act, 2017, has mentioned that there shall be no discrimination on any basis.
But, many women are facing harassment at the workplace although various laws are formulated to curb that. The government has formulated the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act, 2015, specific legislation addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Pursuant to section 4, any of the unsolicited acts committed by, or caused to be committed by, any person in abuse of his/her position, power or by the imposition of any type of coercion, undue influence, or enticement would constitute sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes physical contact and advances; showing or displaying pornographic material, expressing sexual motives by way of written, verbal, or non-verbal means, demand or proposal for sexual favours; and flirting or harassing with a sexual motive.
Additionally, the Electronic Transactions Act, 2006, in its section 47 prohibits teasing, harassing, insulting or similar indecent activities against women by means of the use of computers, the internet, and other means of electronic communication. The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies also adopted the Code of Conduct against Gender-based Violence at the Workplace in Industrial Enterprises in 2010.
More on this, there are various laws and policies which have prohibited sexual harassment at the workplace. For instance, the Foreign Employment Policy recognises the problem of sexual harassment faced by female workers in course of foreign employment and states the need to address their concerns. The Criminal Code, 2017, prohibits certain acts that constitute sexual harassment. The Labour Act also prohibits sexual harassment.
Contrary to the objective of these laws, the practice shows a different picture. The reports prepared by various institutions show that working women face different kinds of violence: unequal pay, social discrimination at the workplace despite law ensuring equal rights, fair wages, and social protection.
The traditional practice of sending out menstruating women from the home, majorly practised in the western parts of Nepal, is linked with social taboos and, often stigma, in Hindu traditions. The practice is already criminalised through the enactment of a law in 2017, with a provision of imposing a fine of Rs 3,000 and/or three months’ imprisonment to any individual who is forcing women to practise the system.
Although the practice is criminalised, various news reports show otherwise. The report commissioned by the United Nations Nepal says 45 per cent of the population in Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces believes that it is another customary practice that causes harm whereas there are various stakeholders from governmental and non-governmental organisations involved in declaring the region Chhaupadi-free.
As per the reports, the harmful practices in these provinces are deeply rooted in discriminatory social norms, often founded on religious beliefs and customs. Recently, the government had destroyed more than 300 menstruation sheds in the region; however, after destroying the shed women have started staying in animal shelters. It means advocacy would be required to change the mindset of people regarding menstruation.
The significance of International Women’s Day is always present, as an honour to all the women who have contributed from their sides. However, different social, economic and other factors are hindering women to have equal access and opportunities in society. Despite signs of progress on laws from what we had a few years ago, the practice still requires rich, research-based interventions and strategies.