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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.

1st day

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 behind.

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.

2nd Day

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 fields.

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 man.

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.

 
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