Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nepalese Women at the Crossroads: Which Road to Choose?

Nepal is one of the smallest and least developed countries in the world yet rich in diversity in geography, culture and social system. Nepal has above 100 castes and ethnicities, over 90 languages, various cultures and traditions. This diversity has brought severe disparities between men and women. The geography of the country has restricted physical mobility of women within their locality. Today more than 80% of the total population live in rural areas, where 60% are women who undertake 66% of the agricultural labor and has contributed 40% of the total GDP. However, their work has neither been acknowledged nor recognized.

They have little access to the economic resources they generate. Although the agricultural sectors employs majority of the labor force, a part of the population in rural areas is unable to afford their basic needs itself, modern amenities arent anywhere close to available. In every society, men and women are considered as equals. However, this belief is far away when it comes to practice in Nepal. Nepalese society has created a distinct role for men and women since its formation. Men and women have different roles, norms and opportunities. Women especially in rural areas work more than 15 hours -From early in the morning till late night, theyre involved in domestic chores and agricultural work too. Still their work have not been acknowledged and recognized.

The girls are expected to help their mother from an early age and are detained to the 'inside world'- to learn the household drudgery to be a perfect 'home maker'- dutiful and loyal wife, loving mother, subservient and service provider; while boys are prepared to live in the 'outside world'- to involve in productive work- work that generates money in the form of salary, wages or income decision making etc. In many families this discrimination has been accepted as a culture of the family. Women especially in rural areas are forced to accept this strong and unjust social structure with silence. Since they are born, they are made to believe that these extreme prejudices are their fate and ensue from their „bad deeds in the previous life.

In Nepal, most of the parents still strongly prefer sons over daughters because the society recognizes sons only as their child and gives full rights only to sons to carry the family name, perform death rituals and rite. Likewise, sons are considered as insurance for parents in their old age. As a result, parents prefer to wait just to give birth to a son (dhilo paye, chhora paye) in the name of preserving traditional customs. It is widely believed in “traditional families” that the birth of a son paves their way to heaven (chhora paye swarga jaane), therein fosters the derogatory attitude towards daughters. This obligates many women to give birth until they have a son. In this case, their bodies are treated like child bearing machines. These disparities still prevail in Nepalese society regardless of the feminist movement and their efforts to challenge the Supreme Court to take initiative in eliminating gender based inequalities.

Socio-cultural preferences and poverty have also contributed to increase the death of rural women during the complication in pregnancy and child delivery. Most health care services are available in cities and towns and are beyond the accessibility and affordability of rural people. Alternatively, the local health centers which are accessible (generally located in distant places) even lack sufficient common medicines. Modern medical equipment and health experts in rural areas are far from the imagination of local people. As a result, rural people are forced to believe in/rely on local traditional healers.

Many families in rural areas still hold a negative attitude towards womens education that not only keep women in a lower status but also restricts them from greater participation in social, political and economic activities. A sons education is considered important, and even if daughters are sent to school, they are sent to government (public) schools where the tuition till secondary education is free and the exam fee is very minimal, considering daughters to be given away as a “gift” in marriages in the name of a traditional practice called kanyadaan. Therefore, investing in daughters education is seen as a disincentive for parents. Equally, other contributing factors for restricting women from attending school are: excessive workload of the households, poor economic conditions of parents, unaffordable education fees, lack of toilets, lack of female teachers and other facilities. Thus, girls are often left behind through socio-cultural practices from equal access to education.

This illiteracy has lagged women far behind men in access to material resources such as property including home and land ownership. The central bureau of statistics shows that only 10.84 women have access to land ownership compared to 89.16% of men. It also reveals that women consisting 50.04% of the total population barely has 5.51% of home ownership. Until 2002, women were not allowed to transfer citizenship to their children. Citizenship is one of the fundamental legal documents to buy land but rural people especially women are not even aware of its use and their rights. This lack of awareness has deprived their children from various social benefits that are provided by the states and agents.

Having born and brought up in this type of environment, the question that often comes to my mind is Who is responsible for this situation of women? Women who work more than 15 hours are often blamed for not doing anything and beaten by their partners. Their work is neither recognized nor acknowledged by the family and the society. And now, I finally believe, that we've reached the Crossroads.

The path now, is ours to choose. And we have to choose wisely, because every crossroad holds an unknown path, an adventure perhaps, or the road to hell….. But be forewarned, there is only One road to Heaven, and there are Nine to Hell!

A woman, in many places, is treated with respect and love, like a Goddess even. I wish that there comes a day when this comes true in Nepal too, then there will be bliss, Nepal will no more be blue.

This article was originally published in IU e-magazine ( in India on November 20, 2011. 

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Role of International Community to Promote Human Rights in Syria

courtesy: Wikipedia
Syria uprising has been influenced by the concurrent protest and successful pro-democratic movement in the region especially in the Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. After the fall of Gadhaffi regime in Libya, the opposition ‘radical’ groups are calling for the resignation of the president Bashar al-Assad for the democratization in Syria. There are number of options open to international community to interferences in Syria such as military, economic and diplomatic. However, it is hard to say what can be the best option to promote human rights and justices in Syria because there are still the substantial numbers of populations who support the authorities and recently around 2 million people protest against western interferences. Before we provide the best solution to stop violence in Syria from my point of view, we need to go to the history and find out how the revolution or violence happened in Syria. It would be unfair just to take one stand either from government or opposing groups. Currently, there are debates on whether the external interferences would be the best option to stop human rights issues in Syria or not.

Supporters for Assad Regim @Courtesy Google
When the protests first erupted, the protesters clamored for the repeal of the emergency laws, democratic elections, presidential term limits, freedom of expression and an independent judiciary and equal rights for Kurds. It clearly shows that the problem started with political problems and the solution should also be found within the political framework. I firmly believe that problems emanate within Syria and the problem should be solved from inside. Interruption from outside may pose a greater damage and might escalate the problem.  Interruption also endangers more lives of civilians. Therefore, Syria unrest is the matter of “domestic affairs” and every country should respect the sovereignty of Syria. Syrian has right to self determination to decide about their country. This does not mean that I am supporting the Asad’s regime. States must respect the “peaceful” protest and the aspirations of their citizens, but it is also the states responsibility to protect those citizens when protestors involve in violent action. The violence in Syria is the conflict of political approaches so the solution should be found within the political framework rather than providing arms, weapons and any other support by international communities that can foster war and violence.

On, the other hand, the government is blaming foreign conspiracies for the situation because there have been several reports that after the fall of Gadhaffi regime, the “radical” opposing groups have been supported and are expecting foreign sponsors especially for supporting weapons to them, calling international community to declare “no fly zone” and acting outside the law. We need to understand that violence do not start from one side given the facts that the “radical” opposing groups are demanding for the death of the president by hanging and even killing numerous soldiers. This forces us to ponder, Is Syria the next Libya? Is President Al-Assad the nest Gadhaffi? We need to find out the legitimate actor to bring the violence and should be taken to the fair trial. Violence is unaccepted at any cost whoever the perpetrators are.

@courtesy Google

In September, the EU imposed an embargo on crude oil imports and banned EU firs from investment in Syria’s oil industry. US also declared an economic sanction against Syria. I personally do not think that economic sanctions (especially oil embargo, sanctions on banks and telecoms) against Syria will solve the promote human rights in the country rather should banned all the sale and support of weapons and purchase of arms to Syria not only to the authorities but also to protestors.  The economic sanction should be immediately withdraw against Syria because it might further exacerbate the situation. I am glad that the UN Security Council fails to adopt draft resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown because the history has clearly shows that any external interferences that starts with economic sanction either lead to the greater casualties of human lives or ended up with military interferences. For instance, in Iraq from 1990-2003 is one of the examples that shows economic sanctions directly and negatively affected innocent people rather than despotic leaders. Another example is also the North Korea where economic sanctions failed to collapse the leaders rather it has affected millions of people who are starve to death.
Human Rights groups reported that the death toll ranged above 3000 and over 10,000 people has been arrested by authorities and several armies have been killed by protestors. However there is no exact information about casualties and human rights violation by protestors and authorities. Most of the videos and reports are based on the protestor’s side. Therefore, the separate commission should immediately establish to inquiry, investigate all alleged violations of human rights law by the authorities and protestors.
@Courtesy Google
There is a fear that the collapse of the president might “provoke conflict, destabilize the region and create a destructive impact on the Middle East.” I even doubt if the resignation/collapse of president would bring any significant changes. Considering the situation of Syria, the best way out of the situation is to refuse a conflict and bring parties together to devise intra-Syrian political process. In doing so, Qatar and the Arab League can play the mediation activities in freeing detainees who haven’t committed crime, create an environment to foster peaceful dialogue with authorities and opposition groups and force the government to follow on reform and favor gradual change. On the other hand, the opposition groups should immediately give up armed insurrection and engage with authorities for peaceful dialogue. In this case, the international community can request opposite group to come forward for peace discussion.
This is the personal opinion of the author and is based on the debate during the class MAINS Global Human Rights. Author would like to thanks all the participants for their meaningful contribution.