The case for achieving gender parityFormal structures like laws and policies play a decisive role in eliminating gender inequality.
Geeta Bhattrai Bastakoti
The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 reveals that we are still 100 years away from achieving gender parity. What bearing does this global statistic have on Nepal? How long will it take for us to achieve gender equality?
Gender equality is a state or condition that affords women and men across all generations the enjoyment of equal rights, opportunities, and resources to ensure wellbeing, respect, and dignity. This year’s report places Nepal four steps ahead of its 2018 ranking—at 101, among 153 countries. While this indicates some progress, it also communicates another clear and crucial point: Nepal is 100 steps behind other countries when it comes to reducing inequalities.
Since 2006, the World Economic Forum Gender Parity Index has quantitatively measured the progress of gender indicators across countries, mainly in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. While quantitative measurements are critical indicators, we must remember that hitting the right numbers in and of itself will not be enough.
Crucially, this year’s index highlights areas where policymakers and development actors need to attach greater attention. Whether or not we achieve gender parity will rely greatly on the transformation of contemporary social structures which govern power relations. It is these structures that are embedded in the thoughts and belief systems of individuals at every rung of society and hence, determine action at each level.
Nepal’s commitments to action
Nepal has ratified a number of international commitments to non-discrimination, gender equality, and social justice. Opportunities lie within these commitments to action for Nepal to achieve gender equity and equality.
The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by Nepal in 1991, includes articles on the elimination of discrimination in public life, civil status, education, employment, health care, and other aspects of social and economic life. The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and ICPD+10 set out commitments to ensuring women’s reproductive health and rights, to which Nepal is a party.
A significant national milestone, the Constitution of Nepal (2015), enshrines equal rights for women, the poor, the vulnerable, and those from diverse social groups, and hence also represents a milestone for gender equality. It ensures affirmative action to address historical disadvantages and a ban on gender-and caste/ethnicity-based discrimination.
Nepal is also committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and is making concerted efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5, Gender Equality.
Women account for over 50 percent of the population of Nepal, but their status—in terms of education, health, and economic engagement in the service sectors—is low. The gender gap remains wide. The literacy rate indicates this great divide: only 57.4 percent of women are literate compared to 75 percent of men. The disparity is greater when we look at the employment figures: only 22.9 percent of women are employed compared to 48.3 percent of men. These figures beg the question: Are these disparities so stark because women have less access to education and hence limited employment opportunities? Or could it be that we do not have mechanisms in place to allow women opportunities for economic engagement even when they have the necessary educational background and skill sets?
It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that women have equal opportunities. One way to do so is to create opportunities specifically for women across sectors. With greater numbers of girls getting an education, it now more important than ever that women be viewed as integral to not just the agricultural but also to business and service sectors.
Limited opportunities and multiple social constraints—discriminating norms of behaviour that determine marriage age, division of labour, mobility, and wage gaps, and heteronormative concepts regarding masculinity and femininity—exacerbate the gender gap. The divide is much wider in the mountain regions due to biophysical constraints, remoteness, limited opportunities, mobility, and access to education. Social norms define women’s positions. Nepali women belong to 125 caste and ethnic groups, and come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. It is imperative that policymakers and development organisations recognise that women are not a homogenous block but a diverse, heterogeneous group. Their needs must be addressed across ethnic, economic, educational, and geographical lines.
Nepal has made commendable progress in terms of women’s political participation, with 41 percent of governance positions (at three tiers of the government) occupied by women. However, there are major imbalances, particularly when it comes to decision-making positions, which are almost exclusively held by men. With only 2 percent representation in decision-making positions, women remain outliers as far as political decision-making is concerned.
Women’s investment options, decision choices, status, and security are also decidedly limited. According to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (2011), only 19.71 percent of women-owned fixed assets, either individually or jointly with a male family member. Property ownership, be it land, houses/buildings, and equipment, continues to be predominantly male. In urban areas, 26.77 percent of households show female-ownership of fixed assets while the percentage stands at 18.02 percent in rural areas.
Even after years of government campaigns to end child marriage, starting with declaring it illegal in 1963, the practice remains prevalent, still standing at 39 percent. Around 25 percent of women—across different age groups—continue to face physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. And although the national maternal mortality rate has declined, it stands at 258 per 100,000 births. Only 36 percent of births are assisted by a skilled healthcare provider.
The numbers stated above indicate where we stand, and must inspire our policymakers and development organisations to take action that will help ensure the creation of systems that are fair and equitable, and allow for safe and friendly environments that provide women room to flourish.
We must, women and men together, advocate through concerted action and be #EachForEqual. After all, as the theme for this year’s Women’s Day iterates, we can all, individually and actively ‘choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements’.
What do you think?
Dear reader, we’d like to hear from you. We regularly publish letters to the editor on contemporary issues or direct responses to something the Post has recently published. Please send your letters to [email protected] with "Letter to the Editor" in the subject line. Please include your name, location, and a contact address so one of our editors can reach out to you.