Role of Women in State Building
Organised by FES Nepal
5-6 December, Nagarkot
Report Prepared by:
Lara Klossek and Saroj Gautam
The two-day seminar "The role of women in State Building"
took place on 5 and 6 December 2013 and was initiated and organized
by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Nepal (FES). Following the foundation's
basic principles of freedom, equality, solidarity and peace, the
main purpose of the seminar was to educate and enlighten the participants
from the villages around Nagarkot (around 120 men and women engaged
in the seminar). The event gave the attendees the chance to broaden
their wisdom about gender questions and to discuss their own needs
and problems with the invited experts.
Nepal's today population is about 27 million. Out of them more
than fifty percent are women. In spite of some achievements
their standing in society is still characterized by discrimination
in all aspects of their daily life. This discrimination helps
to maintain a level of inequality and differences between genders.
Women are more affected when it comes to problems of illiteracy
(54% women, 25% men according to the census of 2001) and poverty
and they are underrepresented in politics, economy and other
areas of the social life. Women are not the only group in the
Nepalese society which is suffering from exclusion. The deeply
enrooted and mutually enforcing feudal, caste and patriarchal
structure led to the radicalization of the demands of those
who felt excluded from the political processes. The outcome
was the 10-decade long civil war in 1996. The superiority of
men over women is socially constructed and it is very hard to
overcome this mindset, because it has been internalized by the
society since centuries. Therefore empowerment of women means
in the first place changes in the internal self-perceptions.
Women have to realize the power they can gain from collective
action and the capabilities to raise their voices. The purpose
of the work of FES and any attempts to strengthen women in Nepal
is to build a sense of agency on their capacity to act on their
own behalf. This empowerment starts at the grass- root level
("from below") where it helps to improve the livelihoods
of women and make them capable of demanding broader institutional
change. Further it is important to include male in this process
because the women often can't communicate at home what they
learnt in the seminars they are visiting. The learning process
has to take place in the whole society not only for women. In
addition to enlightenment social inclusion is needed in Nepal.
This means institutional reforms to change the external environment
of exclusion and discrimination. Institutional change has to
provide all citizens with equal opportunities in their daily
life. This of course requires sufficient state capacity. Changes
in Nepal can only be conducted by the empowerment of women and
social inclusion at the same time.
Samira Paudel (FES Gender Coordinator) inaugurated the
program by welcoming all the guests and introducing the presenters.
She also gave a brief introduction of the formation of FES and
their main fields of work.
Ramsaran Luitel (Retired professor) explained that the
Nepalese society is based on traditional values. Discrimination
and exclusion of women starts within the family and the society.
Therefore the thinking of the society has to be changed, which
is of course only possible by including the society itself.
Especially women have to be empowered as they have internalized
the ideas of women being weaker than men, and they are highly
dependent on their husbands.
Dev Raj Dahal (Head of FES Nepal) highlighted the importance
of active citizens. A national society can only survive if the
citizens are using their rights and fulfill their duties. Therefore
the crisis in Nepal is partly caused by inactive citizens who
don't have a national feeling for their country. He added that
wisdom can't be achieved through education, it comes through
enlightenment. In the ancient time people didn't discriminate
each other, they used their moral to distinguish between right
and wrong. Now people stopped using their knowledge and wisdom
and there is discrimination among cast and gender. All the ancient
religious teachings and philosophy gave importance to justice.
This justice includes a balanced and responsible use of nature,
Social Justice, Gender Justice and Intergenerational Justice.
He underlined that all societies are based on a system dividing
different groups and classes. The responsibility of the government
is to make it possible for everybody in the society to overcome
these structures and ascend the hierarchy by improvising the
economic, cultural and social policies. There is a need of government
which represents the will, policy and mandate of the people.
To make a country strong there is a need of democracy, the government
has to collect taxes, citizens should be sincere and loyal to
their country and law should be successfully implemented. Further
the development policy should be in regard with the local needs
and will of the people. Women, who are a large part of the society,
have to be empowered to fulfill their duties as active citizens
and take their role in the state building process. They have
to be empowered in the area of education, finance/economy, front
build up (association) and leadership.
Kashi Raj Dahal posed the question why there is no development
in Nepal. He answered it by saying there is a lack of national
feeling. He explained that development is only possible if the
people understand that it is important to protect their own
country. Women are not included in the nation development process,
because of the thinking that they are a burden in this process.
It is important to change this wrong thinking and believes in
order to bring change. Therefore women have to form associations
and work together in order to promote their rights to equality,
because often they work against each other bringing women further
Aarti Chataut stressed that the discrimination of women
in Nepal already starts with the use of language with women
being instructed to address their husband with tapai (most polite)
and husbands are using timi to address their wives. Women in
Nepal are the hardest working in the whole world: 70% of the
women work 17 hours a day. Their work is mostly reproductive
meaning that they are doing this unpaid like in the case of
household work. Further they are not getting any appreciation
for the work they are doing. Men in comparison are doing the
productive work earning the money for the family. Around 90%
of the male population is doing productive work and only 10%
of the women. This imbalance is not only a problem for women.
Men are given the responsibility for their whole family accompanied
by a lot of pressure from the society to earn a lot of money
and increase the family's wealth. These roles are given by the
society and not by the nature itself. Therefore it is highly
important to achieve a role change in Nepal. For this role change
it is important to educate the whole society about the problem
of gender-based discrimination. If one is only empowering women
it is not possible to bring the change since men also need to
understand and cooperate in the process. Education is one area
where inequalities are vivid. The important time to build up
one's career is between 15 and 35, but mostly women in Nepal
are married early and they miss the chance to finish their education
properly. Other areas of discrimination include governmental
service, police, army, non-governmental services and politics.
The presentation was followed by a discussion round. In that
discussion it was stated that the country should give better
opportunity to women and that women should raise their voices
for change. Without change within the women themselves there
can't be change in the society. Participants criticized that
even if women are qualified and capable they are not given the
chance to work and earn money and take the responsibility for
the family. Participants therefore asked how the role change
can take place between men and women.
Yubraj Ghimire said that democracy is based on equality
and non-discrimination. Therefore the first challenge is to
make women active citizens. This change has to come from the
grass-root level and starts with equal education for both -
men and women. After 10 years of conflict the change doesn't
seem to be satisfactory in Nepal. He criticized the foreign
intervention in the field of women empowerment and other fields
saying that even in US where democracy was established 200 years
ago there has never been a female president. One reason for
the lack of development in Nepal is the use of models imposed
by foreign countries. While talking about rights of women it
means in the first place that a functioning and independent
judiciary is needed. Further he stated that slogans alone won't
help to achieve equality but that the implementation of laws
is a crucial requirement. The changes in the field of gender-based
discrimination won't happen from one day to the next because
social changes can only happen slowly - therefore, appropriate
laws are required. He also said that in a democracy all citizens
have their responsibility and can act as leaders in their respective
The discussion round revealed the problem that women who are
actually working in the field of policy making are mostly from
high-class families and can't understand the problems and feelings
of women outside the high-class. Further participants said that
political parties discriminate women and they raised the question
how this can be changed. The interference of foreign countries
in Nepal seemed to concern the participants who asked how this
interference could be stopped.
As an answer it was said that the representation of women nowadays
is just a symbolic representation. Of course high class women
can't represent the needs and ideas of working class women properly,
but for now it is already a big step to have that many women
in politics. Changes will come - but they will need their time.
Dev Raj Dahal said that political leaders forgot that the society
already brings along a lot of wisdom which can be used to formulate
good policies. They focus on theories and knowledge which they
adopt from foreign countries instead of using the local knowledge.
It is necessary to make the political leaders understand the
importance of local knowledge which comes from the people itself
who are the supreme power in a democracy. We - as citizens-
have to inform ourselves how the government functions and what
our rights are in order to make the best use out of them. An
alarming trend is the growing privatization of education, as
a part of a slow capitalization of the society. People start
being more egoistic and this trend has to be reversed. Morality
should always be the supreme law.
Aariti Chatauth pointed out that in the policy formulation
less than 1% of women is involved. She questioned if men fully
understand the problems and needs of women and therefore demanded
a higher percentage of women in policy formulation. She also
proposed women quotas in order to empower the women which have
been thrown back for centuries. In addition she said that economic
empowerment is as important as education to make women completely
independent and provide them with the same opportunities like
As more than half of the population in Nepal are women they
need to be included in the process of state building, but they
can only participate if they get the opportunity to fulfil their
duties and responsibilities as active citizens. This is not
possible for them in the current context because of the problems
of gender-based discrimination. The general opinion was that
discrimination already starts in the family and the society.
These structures build up over centuries and are difficult to
change. It got clear that any change has to include women empowerment
and social justice at the same time. Women themselves have to
realize that their weakness is socially constructed and that
they have to work together to stop the discrimination. On the
other side the government needs to provide the institutional
framework for the change. This includes for example equal opportunities
in the field of education or a functioning judiciary. It also
became clear that in the process of fighting against gender-based
discrimination man and women play an important role. By only
empowering women one won't change the concept of men. Therefore
it is important to always address the society as a whole.