Women who have the opportunity to speak up about challenges women and girls face in Nepali society can help tackle stigma
Yesterday in Dhading, we met Sita, who was telling us about the distances she walks to carry water for her family and animals. She told us about her hopes and ideas for how she can use the time she will save when a new water project is completed to put a tap by her house. We regularly meet hard-working, resilient and articulate women as we travel around Nepal, who inspire with their determination and ambition. But many women and girls’ lives are blighted by violence—a subject very much in our minds during this international 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
The policy environment in Nepal for addressing the range of gender issues is increasingly positive. In this field, UK Aid’s aim is to support Nepal’s development by giving women and girls a voice, and opportunities to make choices, so that they can take control of their futures. We believe that if you empower women and girls, educate them, build their self-esteem and give them the agency to make decisions, they will be able to achieve the goals they set for themselves and men and boys will also benefit; everyone wins. So we are proud to be supporting the Government of Nepal in its work to enable all women and girls to reach their full potential.
Earlier this year, we attended Nepal’s first Girl Summit, opened by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, with the theme ‘Girls are the future of Nepal’. At the Summit, the Government of Nepal reconfirmed its commitment to end child marriage by 2030. Nepal currently has the largest incidence of child marriage in South Asia; 48 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 49 get married before they turn 18. Violence affects women and girls everywhere, including in the UK. This includes domestic violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation, Child Early and Forced Marriage, acid attacks, and other forms of violence. Ending child marriage is a priority in the UK; and we are pleased to be working to help the Government of Nepal to achieve its own objectives on this crucial topic.
One of the ways we are doing this is by supporting inclusive growth. The UK Government is investing in several programs to support women’s economic empowerment across Nepal. In partnership with the Government of Nepal, the program will work directly with the private sector, local organizations and communities to develop solutions to the barriers that prevent women and girls from participating in and benefitting from the economy. This is in addition to programs that work in sectors like health and financial access, which have a clear emphasis on supporting women and girls.
The theme for this year’s global 16 days of activism is—“Peace at home is the basis of world peace: A gender-based violence-free society for sustainable development”. This is pertinent to Nepal where one-third of married women aged 15-49 years reported having experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence from their spouse at some point since the age of 15. There are many programs operating at the local level that are tackling gender-based violence by promoting security and justice, increasing financial access for women and training women and girls in self-defense; all of which are supporting a safer, more inclusive environment that encourages female participation.
Women who have the opportunity to speak up about the challenges women and girls face in Nepali society can help tackle stigma and remove taboos around gender-based violence and other issues important to women. In this regard, we are pleased to see the recent appointment of women in senior positions in many roles in Nepal. This includes Chief Justice Sushila Karki at the Supreme Court; Supreme Court Justice Sapana Malla, Speaker Onsari Gharti, Commissioner of National Human Right Commission of Nepal Mohna Ansari; and Bandana Rana at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Expert Committee.
We are confident that having women in such positions, in addition to Nepal’s reservation system to increase female participation, will help amplify the voices of women and girls, help create policies that are more inclusive and forward-looking and be role models for girls, showing them what they can do in the future.
As HRH Prince Harry said at the Girl Summit, it cannot just be women that speak up for other women. We must all work together to defend human rights, particularly those of women and girls. The challenges we face are global: 62 million girls are not getting the education they deserve; two-thirds of the nearly 800 million people who were never taught to read and write are women; more than 700 million women alive today were married as children; and nearly 250 million of them were married before the age of 15.
In Dhading yesterday, it was good to speak to senior policemen—and policewomen—about their commitment to tackling gender based violence—and see the new UK Aid-funded Women and Children Service Centre in Dhadingbesi that is under construction.
The global 16 days of activism against gender-based violence is one way to put the spotlight on the unique challenges women and girls face every day, not just in Nepal, but around the world. No-one should have to live under the shadow of violence. The impressive women and girls we meet every day show why this issue must remain a priority.
Morris is the British Ambassador to Nepal and Marzetti is the Head of DFID in Nepal