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Tag: Gender Equality and Social Inclusion

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

The Burden of Contraceptives on Nepali Women

SHASTA Kansakar

Almost half of Nepali women of reproductive age use contraceptive measures. Condoms, morning-after pills, and intrauterine devices (IUD) are a commonality for contemporary Nepalis. Having these choices and access to contraceptives is crucial for reproductive healthcare and empowerment. This allows for ease of family planning as well as sexual liberation. It is great that Nepal has reached many milestones with regard to reproductive health, for example meeting MDGs and SDGs. However, it is to be noted that women bear the brunt of using contraceptives over men. 

In 2019, 47 percent of Nepali women aged 15 to 49 reportedly used permanent or temporary contraceptives. These contraceptive methods commonly included female sterilization, birth control pills, IUDs, injectables, implants, and female condoms for women while men used condoms or underwent sterilization. Most of these contraceptives – bar condoms – are either injected or ingested, making them invasive procedures. According to a 2016 study, 28 percent of Nepali women relied on sterilization, 17 percent on injectables, nine percent on birth control pills, six percent on implants, and three percent on IUDs. In contrast, only ten percent of men had undergone sterilization. As per this data, women largely endure invasive procedures over men. Such temporary contraceptives for women largely affect their quality of life due to the side effects. On the other hand, for men, there are no temporary birth control measures aside from condoms in the market. 

Women often report mood changes, weight gain, nausea, migraines, thinning hair, and irregular periods as a few of the side effects of contraceptives. Studies have also concluded that hormonal contraceptives could lead to severe conditions like depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Dr. Heera Tuladhar, head of gynecology and obstetrics at KIST Teaching Hospital, Kathmandu says that these side effects depend on the age and pre-existing conditions of the individuals. For instance, older women tend to experience more side effects. Similarly, while less than ten percent of women may be severely affected by hormonal contraceptives, progestin-only pills like Depo-Provera may lead to bleeding problems. Estrogen and progestin-based contraceptives like pills may lead to heart problems. As further mentioned by Dr. Tuladhar, only a small portion of women may experience severe reactions. Nonetheless, the minor side effects also impact the quality of life of many users and hence should not be ignored. Ironically, there have been many studies speculating whether the negative effects of women’s contraceptives are placebo or not. This is frustrating because not only do women overwhelmingly use contraceptives that intrude on their bodies, but their concerns are also brushed off and understudied by academics. Moreover, holistic research on the physical, mental, and sexual well-being of contraceptive users is acutely lacking. Sex is viewed as a purely biological process instead of a recreational one that intertwines with one’s social or familiar life. So, the sexual functioning or libido and the emotional state and burden of contraceptive-using women should be studied beyond medical side effects. 

The emotional aspect in particular is also gravely undermined. Despite the ubiquity of contraceptives, it is still taboo to speak about them openly. This puts a mental burden on women, especially unmarried ones. There are many instances of gynecologists slut-shaming unmarried women for their sexual choices. It can hence be difficult for women to speak about their experiences with their peers and even medical professionals, isolating them from the support they might need. 

Moving forward, Dr. Tuladhar hopes that newer contraceptives will have low doses and high efficacy. On the other hand, she says that healthcare providers should create a safe space for contraceptive users to express their discomfort. They should also not discriminate against unmarried women and prioritize the needs of the patients instead. In addendum, it is only proper to mention that contraceptives still have not saturated their reach in certain parts of Nepal. That being said, the ones who do have access to contraceptives should receive the care that they deserve. So perhaps it is high time we reflect on the physical and emotional impact it has on women, and the way forward in research and in society to enhance the experience of contraceptive users.

This blog is a part of NIPoRe’s blog series on Women’s History Month 2023

OP-EDs and Columns

Missing Dalits in Research Bodies


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 12 March 2023. Please read the original article here.

Research institutions in Nepal have constantly been pushing for inclusive development. Their push for evidence-based policymaking can shed light on social challenges and also guide us to create interventions to benefit marginalised communities. However, most Nepali research institutions promoting inclusive governance, human development and social justice do not reflect the diversity of Nepali society.

We can find that practices of mentoring/ advising had been carried out earlier by rulers in the country. While high-caste Brahmins led such practices, advisory bodies such as PanchakachariDharmiksava, and Vardarisava were formed during the Lichhavi and Malla dynasties. Likewise, pandit groups were such advisors during the Rana and Shah dynasty. These groups would advise the rulers based on Hindu philosophies and texts such as Manusmriti. Caste duties were performed based on their advice and mentoring. However, the legacy of such practices is still continuing through established research institutions. Be it governmental or private/non-governmental institutions, their composition predominantly consists of the upper caste and class.

Except for Samsodhan Mandal, which was established in 1952, private and non-governmental research organisations were established after the political change of 1990. In a study carried out in 2000, titled Nepal Ka Jatiya Prashna: Samajik Banaut Ra Sajhedariko Sambhawana, Govind Neupane analysed the ethnicity in the academic and administrative units of the Tribhuvan University (TU). He presented the institution as a Khas Sansthan based on its composition.

Later, in 2002, Krishna Hachhetu studied the social profile of researchers and professors affiliated with TU. He looked into the History, Political Science, Economics, Sociology and Anthropology departments, and research institutions under TU, including the Centre for Nepal and South Asian Studies (CNAS) and the Centre for Economic Development and Administration (CEDA). According to the study, only 11 percent among the 157 members of that organisation were women. Among them, 88 percent were Brahmin and Chhetri, 26 percent were Newar, and 5 percent other hill tribes. Similarly, there were only 8 percent Terai Madheshis, none of whom were Dalits. (Krishna Hachhetu, CNAS, Vol. 29 (1), P. 49-95, 2002). In the same way, Kiran Gautam analysed the caste profile of the initial committee of the Nepal Pragya Pratisthan from 2012 to 2072. The leadership of the Pratisthan consisted of 63 percent Brahmin-Chhetri, 20 percent Newar, 6 percent Madheshi, 5 percent Rai-Limbu, 2 percent Gurung and Magar, and 1 percent Thakali and Dalits. Another government body active in knowledge production is the Policy Research Institute, holding 73 percent Brahmin Chhetri, 15 percent Newars and 12 percent Dalits. Similarly, Madheshi, Gurung, and Jirel have one percent representation each and Tamang two percent (Himal Monthly, Sharwan, 2079 BS). The studies mentioned above show that the diversity of Nepali society is not seen in our knowledge-production institutions, especially those led by the government. The gap in social inclusion remains the same in non-governmental research institutions.

I have analysed the team composition of the leading 15 non-governmental research institutions in Nepal, which consisted of their board members, advisors, staff, interns and volunteers. Be it an institute with nine members or another with 50 members, the inclusion of Dalit team members lingered at just one individual (with the exception of two institutions). To great disappointment, around 10 such institutes did not even have a single individual from the Dalit community. Similarly, the inclusion of women in these institutions is equally disappointing. Only 6 of the 15 institutions had 50 or higher percentage of women members as directors and research staff. This exclusion of Dalits and marginalised communities in non-governmental research institutions raises two major concerns. First, our research sphere has become exclusive to the upper and privileged caste/ class. Despite changing societal context, the composition portrays that knowledge production is still meant to be led by a certain few. Such exclusions based on knowledge also determine who gets to hold power. As Michel Foucault has said, “The exercise of power perpetually creates knowledge and, conversely, knowledge constantly induces effects of power”. Therefore, it is not just about representation—a matter of acknowledging existence. Rather, our research institutions need to become inclusive to indeed welcome the presence and perspectives of Dalits and produce knowledge with their contribution and leadership. Second, the knowledge we produce is biased when we speak from our perspective and speak for the community rather than speaking with the community. The chances are high that issues of Dalits won’t be taken as a matter of urgency when nobody is in the team to put it forward. This is evident with the inadequate research on the status of the Dalit community. And even if a matter arises, the narrative can be flawed when based on assumptions rather than experiences.

Under the caste system, Brahmins were put at the top of the hierarchy and were endorsed as intellectuals. This rigid system prohibited producing knowledge and disseminating spheres to the bottom-level people and the people outside the system. But what’s the worth of our research institutions if they don’t represent the people we advocate for and become exclusive to a privileged few? Therefore, we can urge that the exclusive nature of research institutions is deliberately created to support the caste system for dehumanising Dalits through producing single narratives. The contribution of research institutions is undoubtedly significant and needs to be fostered. But such contributions can be questioned if their producing members and production are not representative of the diverse community that our policies will later impact. It is of utmost importance to be based on evidence that relays people’s status and lived experiences as we plan and carry out our development initiatives. As we identify our policy agendas, we should be able to prioritise the needs of marginalised communities that comprise a significant proportion of our population and who have historically, socially, and systematically suffered the most. This should also reflect in the composition of the institutions we create.

Research institutions create discourse about centring the most marginalised while making policies and uplifting them. But sadly, we have already fallen back because of their inability to ensure inclusion in the team they work with for such purposes. So, let’s start by questioning our institutions while we continue questioning our development priorities.

OP-EDs and Columns

Women’s Hardships in Informal Economy

– SAGOON Bhetwal

The opinion piece originally appeared in the December Issue of New Business Age Magazine. Please read the original article here.

One can easily get glimpses of the informal economy while passing through the streets of Kathmandu. From street vendors to home-based workers, the informal economy accounts for economic activities that are carried out with informality. This refers to activities and enterprises that are not regulated or taxed while they also continue to lose recognition and protection. The International Labor Organisation (ILO) says that ‘the informal economy consists of activities that have market value but are not formally registered’. While this economy is a global phenomenon, it is most prevalent in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDEs). It has, on average, a 35% contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in low and middle-income countries while the contribution is 15% in the advanced economies.

According to the World Bank (WB), 80% of the workers in South Asia are involved in informal economic activities. In this region, more than 90% of businesses are informal. The informal economy is mostly defined by its composition of low funding, low-skilled workers, irregular income, lack of social security, difficult working conditions, low level of productivity and lack of protection, to list a few. At the same time, it is also important to note that despite all the negative attributes, this economy also acts as the only safety net for people who are left out of the formal one. It is often identified as a shock absorber when making ends meet becomes impossible through the formal economy. In Nepal, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 62.2% of the total employed people are engaged in informal jobs. The occupations with the highest informal engagement are elementary occupations, agriculture, forestry, fishery, craft and related trade works.

Gender Composition
Women’s labour force participation continues to stay lower even today. Out of those women who are active, most are engaged in the informal economy. As per the Labour Force Survey, 90.5% of employed women in Nepal have informal jobs. A number of factors can be attributed to their large concentration such as lower educational attainment, low level of skill, and cultural restrictions. Their involvement can be found in the least visible and most vulnerable segments which continue to remain under-valued.

Women lack access to need-based benefits and face continuous safety risks. A study carried out by Centre for Social Change (CSS) found that women in the informal economy of Nepal face a disproportionate load of gender wage gap, discrimination and harassment, and even unpaid labour. The constant fear of Gender Based Violence (GBV) either puts women at continuous risk at their workspace or keeps them totally out of employment. According to a study done by CARE Nepal, 66.5% of women in informal jobs in Nepal are vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Even the existing legal provisions such as Sexual Harassment (Elimination) at Workplace Act, 2015 do not take into account the violence that happens in informal workspaces and lack specific provisions to address them.

When it comes to differences in income, 66.8% of women in informal jobs earn lower than the minimum wage standard in Nepal. This is extremely high when compared to 31.6% of men working in the informal sector. Wage discrimination persists even in formal jobs, while it is worse for those in informal engagements. What is concerning here is that women are the most discriminated-against as they receive the lowest rate of income or even remain unpaid.

Informal Economy and Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic, followed by its containment measures, took economies worldwide into contraction. The ILO estimates that globally 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy were hit the hardest. Due to measures such as mobility restrictions, people were confined to their homes. This meant that they faced difficulty in making livelihoods as their income increased. They also faced risk of losing their jobs. A survey conducted by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) shows 81% of the respondents living in Kathmandu were unable to pay for their daily necessities, rent, and loans because of the sudden loss of their jobs.

Informal workers engaged in tourism, trade, construction, and manufacturing sectors bore the highest risk as they lost income and lacked protection measures. The ILO estimates that about three-quarters of the total workers in the tourism sector of Nepal are in informal jobs. Even some of those, employed in formal sectors, had to slowly shift to an informal job to make ends meet. COVID-19 further affected their mental and social well being because of the financial insecurity they faced. The pandemic has shown that vulnerability of informal workers can suddenly exacerbate as workers in informal lines of jobs lack social protection and benefits.

Transitioning from Informal to Formal
Shifting to formal standards for wage workers, home-based workers, and self-employed individuals means that they will have to comply under regulations that include both obligations and advantages. This will lead to their contribution to the tax base and GDP as they also receive access, protection and insurance. The ILO in 2015 adopted ‘Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation’. The objectives of ILO Recommendation 204 for the transition are i) creation of decent jobs and sustainable enterprises in formal economy, ii) transition of workers and enterprises to formal economy, and iii) prevention of informalisation of jobs. At the same time, the policy interventions needed to address the existing informality have to be context and stakeholder specific. The strategy that works for wage employees in developed countries might not always work for daily wage earners in Nepal.

However, it is important to realise that this transition is not easy and is rather a long-term process. The informal economy, despite entailing low productivity and low income, has been assisting families to supplement their income and provide a safety net. It has also been absorbing surplus labour and assisting families living on the poverty line when the formal economy excludes them. In the process, the condition of women in the economy and post-pandemic recovery has to be prioritised. It now becomes important for governments to identify how the informal economy can be assisted or decide the extent and process of their formalisation. One thing to remember is that workers need to be provided the incentive for their economic activities.

OP-EDs and Columns

Combating violence against women in politics

– SAGOON Bhetwal

The column originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 12 December 2022. Please read the original article here.

Violence against women (VAW)—a form of severe human rights violation—has remained pervasive around the world, leaving women and girls in distress and affecting their potential. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines VAW as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Unequal power relations result in domination, which is also a manifestation of VAW. This is perceptible around us, be it on the streets or in Parliament. When women engage in politics as voters, activists, and lawmakers, they face a threat and subjugation, primarily because of their gender. Women politicians, though, have been defying norms that otherwise expect them to remain passive. But violence has often been used to reinforce political structure(s) favouring patriarchy and to suppress women politicians from voicing their opinions freely and independently.

In a 2018 study carried out by the inter-parliamentary union (IPU), 85.2 percent of the interviewed women members of the Parliaments in Europe reported having faced psychological violence in Parliament. From Marielle Franco of Brazil, who was known to be a fierce activist, to Angiza Shinwari of Afghanistan, who constantly defended women’s rights, many women politicians have even had to lose their lives when they voiced against gender-based injustices. Women in politics across all borders and in all countries face similar risks and fears as they question the status quo.

What women politicians face around the globe and also in Nepal is a reflection of the wider gender discrimination that occurs across social, cultural, and economic fronts. A study conducted in India, Nepal, and Pakistan on “Violence Against Women in Politics” identified sexual favour, character assassination, verbal harassment, threats, and emotional blackmail as violence against women politicians. Such acts have taken new forms through new means in recent decades, including cases involving harassment by total strangers on social media platforms. An Analysis of Gender Violence in Social Media Against Women in Politics in Nepal found that the most common attacks on women politicians were insults and hate speech.

Ensure legal protection

We have long pushed for the political participation of women in our democracies. However, where we have failed time and again is at ensuring mechanisms in place for their security in political spaces. Our patriarchal political systems are resistant to change and violent, when challenged. And when women do so to demand equal participation, they face violence risks.

The first step towards fighting violence against women in politics is identifying and acknowledging them. This can be done by either expanding our existing laws or pushing new legislation(s). In 2012, Bolivia approved a “Law against Harassment and Political Violence against Women” to criminalise any such acts that threaten the political participation of women and their access to decision-making spaces. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—also considered the International Bill of Rights for Women—obliges countries to take such needed “measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life.” This should entail the right of women to vote in elections, be eligible to be elected in elections, hold public offices, and contribute to formulating government policies. In Nepal, the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention) Act, 2014, does include government bodies within the definition of the workplace and has made such acts liable to punishment. Besides that, there is an absence of incorporation of the concept of violence against women in politics and also legislation that specifically covers all aspects of VAW.

Activism against VAW in politics

Feminist movements have been playing significant roles in advancing the rights of women and girls. Activism is one of the pathways forward to combat violence women face in political engagements. It works to ensure attention and initiate discourse on violence in the political sphere against women, a matter often denied. At the same time, activism can exert influence to build seriousness and even determine what institutional and legal reforms should look like. In France, for example, a hashtag movement called #levonslomerta (end the silence) was initiated by activists and politicians demanding actions to end VAW within political organisations. Such initiatives are needed to build public opinion and, more importantly, solidarity against normalised behaviours that risk women in politics.

A large force of women, 41.21 percent, are already in local governments, and many will soon join the Parliament and assemblies of the country. It becomes the responsibility of the incoming government, political parties, civil society, and elected representatives to collectively ensure that the government bodies and political spaces of Nepal are safe and have zero tolerance for VAW in politics. It also requires the combined effort of activism and reform, along with gender sensitisation at all levels.

Because the patriarchal values of our society continue to define power relations and gender roles, they undermine the position of women in power. VAW in politics differs from political violence as it is more sexualised, used to preserve the status quo and deter political engagement of women. This is even more worrisome for those with intersecting identities who are at greater risk of facing axes of discrimination and violence. The fear of violence limits the possible political activeness of women and creates hurdles for those already in the political arena to make their best contribution.

We should, therefore, realise how a threat to women in politics is, largely, a threat to our entire democracy. Or else, every time the legitimacy of women in politics is questioned, it will simultaneously raise questions on the progress that we claim to have made in terms of their political participation.

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

The Global Gender Gap Report: Has South Asia Progressed?

Sagoon Bhetwal

The World Economic Forum (WEF) annually releases the Global Gender Gap Report. WEF, with this report, helps the world leaders to understand better how their governments fare in terms of minimizing existing gender gaps. It published the first report in 2006 using indicators across four subindexes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Education Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. In 2021, the report highlighted that it would take 135.6 years to close the existing global gender gap. With some improvements, the 2022 report was revised to 132 years. In this blog, I will try to answer questions like: Where does South Asia stand in terms of gender parity? Have we seen growth in our region, or rather, decline?

To begin with, the WEF defines the gender gap as “the difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments and attitudes”. The subindexes receive scores from 0 (which indicates perfect gender imparity) to 1 (which indicates perfect gender parity). 

South Asia remains one of the poor performers in the analysis. In 2021, the region ranked second last among the eight regions considered for the analysis, with a parity score of 62.3 percent. The region’s performance further slided in 2022 and ranked the lowest.  has become the lowest performer with the same parity score. South Asia, in the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, has improved the region’s score from 33.8 percent in 2021 to 35.7 percent in 2022. Still, this is the lowest performance out of all the regions. North America is leading the progress with a parity of 77.4 percent. Afghanistan, one of the major ranked countries from South Asia, has been ranked in the last position (of the total 146 ranked countries) with a score of just 0.176. China, another key rising global economy, on the other hand, ranks in the 37th position (score 0.741). 

In 2022, South Asia  ranks in the second last position under the Educational Attainment subindex with the score from 93.3 percent in 2021 to 93.2 percent in 2022. Under this subindex as well, Afghanistan ranks in the last position further sliding in overall score from 0.514 in 2021 to 0.482 in 2022. China, on the other hand, has here managed to rank in 120th position (score 0.936), thus ranking above Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. 

Likewise, South Asia in the Health and Survival subindex has a parity of 94.2 percent for both the years. The score is still the lowest possible regional score. Under this subindex, India ranks in the last position (among all the ranked countries) with a score of 0.937. However, in 2021, India was just a step ahead of China (ranked last with a score of 0.935).

Finally, under the Political Empowerment subindex, parity score for South Asia has declined from 28.1 percent in 2021 to 26.2 percent in 2022. Despite this decline, the region still remains the fourth best performer in this subindex. Here, China ranks in 120th position (score 0.113), just ahead of Bhutan (score 0.093). Bhutan, as of 2022, remains the lowest performer for this subindex in the region while India is the best performer. 

South Asia, overall, has a parity score of 62.3 percent in 2022, which is 5.8 percent less than the global average of 68.1 percent. The parity score of the region was the same in 2021, against the global average score of 67.7 percent. The 2022 Report has highlighted that South Asia requires 197 years to close the gender gap in the region, far more years than that of global average. Hence, being the worst performing region in the world, it is high time that the governments in the region take national and well-coordinated regional approaches to minimize staggering gender-based gaps.

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability in Nepal: Has Nepal Progressed?

Today marks 16 years since Nepal declared itself a country free of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Dalits, however, continue to struggle for their rights across the legal, social, and economic fronts.