A lot more needs to be done to support gender inclusion in the labour forceWomen-supportive workplace laws need to be re-implemented.
The case of Harmita Shrestha, Sajha Yatayat’s only female driver, is an intriguing and informational one. On the one hand, we have to laud a woman who broke down barriers and societal norms to become one of the first female public transport drivers, and then to become arguably the first Nepali woman to drive a large-body bus. On the other hand, we have to ask what stops more Nepali women from embracing non-traditional jobs in the formal job market, even as women have begun to play a much larger role in the workplace. After all, Nepal can only reap the benefits of its current demographic dividend if more people work, regardless of their gender.
Admittedly, the situation for Nepali women has improved over the past decade or so. With the large outflow of workers, especially men, the women were given a space to explore the labour market. Whether this space came out of freedom, or from desperation to fulfil traditional male roles for livelihood, is another matter. While it is true that the rate of female participation in the labour force has increased, the issue is not just the number, but also the type of work offered. Most women work in the informal sector in Nepal, thereby not receiving the wages and social protection offered to formal sector workers. This is occurring even at a time when there are more working-age females than there are working-age men in the country. Not only are informal household jobs—such as that of maids—overwhelmingly fulfilled by women, they are given tough and low paying jobs in other sectors too. For instance, women working in construction are given the worst of the jobs available, such as carrying bricks and sand, breaking stones and making marble chips. Even when they receive training for better paying and safer jobs—like masonry, in this example—they face other barriers to entry in the market, and are still paid less than their male counterparts. If the woman works in subsistence farming or similar work, she does not have any direct wage to show for it.
Moreover, women are left to fulfil their traditional roles in the home while simultaneously fulfilling paid work duties. Society still expects women to be primary caregivers for their children and manage household duties. Meanwhile, men who work are not expected to share the same burden. To combat the effects of this dual standard, Nepal’s 1992 Labour Act had included a provision that required any workforce employing over 50 women to have a playroom for children, complete with nursing facilities and a caregiver. Not only was this rule barely implemented, it has also been removed following the introduction of the 2017 Labour Act. To truly achieve its current aim of bringing prosperity and happiness to every Nepali, the government has to realise that only financial independence and empowerment will truly make women—representing more than half of the working-age population—happy and prosperous. Such women-supportive workplace laws need to be re-implemented. But it is not the just the government, society too has to adapt to the changing times. The change can start at home, with male partners sharing household and child-rearing responsibilities.
What do you think?
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