#16 Days: Make the callImagine a new Nepal where people of any gender, age, socio-economic background and HIV status are able to recognise and exercise their rights to live with safety and dignity.
Imagine a new Nepal where people of any gender, age, socio-economic background and HIV status are able to recognise and exercise their rights to live with safety and dignity. A place where their voices and choices stand equal in policy and practice. A community where organisations can provide a range of quality services that are accessible, affordable, and acceptable. A society where families have changed attitudes and behaviours toward women and girls, and work together to provide a safe and encouraging environment that values being a woman or a girl. A place where social protection programmes are designed to be gender-responsive and where institutions work with transparency and are accountable to their responsibilities. This is a vision of the 16 Days Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV), with this year’s slogan being “Leave no one behind: End violence against women and girls”.
Cynics may call these the visions of a dreamer. But those swimming against the tide rather than sitting comfortably on the shores would agree that these visions could become reality for an evolving Nepal. For instance, the country has made impressive progress over time in its human development indicators, and in promoting human rights and gender parity, which if continued, can see Nepal graduate out of the ranks of least developed countries by 2022. The Nepali government can be seen as taking the rights of women, girls, minority communities, and other vulnerable groups, increasingly seriously. The 2015 Constitution ensures the Right to Freedom, Right to Equality, Right to live with Dignity, and the Right against Untouchability and Racial Discrimination. It also enshrines specific rights of women including the right against physical, mental and other forms of violence. The National Women Commission, a constitutional body, is responsible for providing concerned authorities with recommendations regarding the filing of cases on the violations of these rights.
Gender issues are high on the policy agenda. A Prime Ministerial Unit to address GBV, and a National Action Plan (now under revision) were set up. The Domestic Violence Act (2008) was crafted as the primary legislation addressing violence against women. A Women and Children’s Service Directorate has been established within the Nepal Police and is now operational in all districts through 240 current service centres. The government has also established 29 One-stop Crisis Management Centres (OCMCs) to provide comprehensive care to gender based violence survivors. In addition, the 2015 Constitution has mentioned provisions for equal rights to property and citizenship for women and other ethnic and gender minorities. The national government makes special provisions for the social security and development of disadvantaged groups, such as cash transfers for Dalit families. Other key government policies drafted so far are the Anti-Witchcraft Act, the Workplace Harassment Prevention Act, and the new Act against Acid Attack being proposed in the Civil Code and the internationally acclaimed, landmark step toward condemning Chhaupadi as legally punitive.
Despite favourable government policies, Nepal still ranks low (144th among 188 countries) on the Human Development Index and Gender Inequality Index. Women and girls are the largest marginalised group in Nepal, faring worse than men and boys on a range of indicators, including health, education, political representation, asset ownership, and economic participation. Despite several efforts of the government, NGOs and civil society, large gender gaps exist across sectors. The World Bank’s 2015 report Violence Against Women and Girls: Lessons from South Asia notes that GBV is an acute problem in Nepal, with women experiencing different forms of violence over their lifetime. Intimate partner violence is common, with Nepal ranking 14 among the 15 countries with the highest global prevalence of physical, intimate partner violence. Outside of the home, trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, rape and forced labour are key challenges in the country. Nepal has a much larger proportion of girls trafficked than any other country in the region. Nepal Police data indicates that rape is the second most prevalent form of violence in Nepal, with more than 800 cases reported annually. Many other forms of violence— including sexual harassment in the workplace or public spaces, dowry deaths, and accusations of witchcraft—are prevalent, but understudied. Lack of knowledge about existing laws against GBV, low awareness of services, and limited trust of public institutions contributes to underreporting.
A Rapid Gender Based Violence Assessment undertaken by CARE Nepal in Gorkha and Sindhupalchok in 2015 showed that post-earthquake, internal and external trafficking of girls and women increased. Findings suggest that traveling to Kathmandu for work, sometimes including sex work, was seen as a viable economic option for women. Some of these young women returned to their villages to encourage and recruit others to migrate to places like Kathmandu and India. Vulnerable young girls and boys were lured by false promises and forced to partake in sex work and/or forced domestic labour under exploitative conditions. This was a recurring problem as many families lost their primary care givers/protectors and were left with single parents or grandparents who could be more easily influenced by human/child traffickers.
The pathway to accomplish the 16 Days Activism’s vision lies somewhere between the persistent drivers of GBV and the promising opportunities in an evolving Nepal. One such opportunity is the national GBV Helpline established recently by the National Women Commission. It will be operational from December 11, 2017. The Helpline is being launched on December 10 as a fitting end to the 16 Days Activism and a promising start to women’s access to a range of services responding to GBV. Women and girls experiencing any form of violence or those who know of such incidents can call the Helpline’s 24 hour toll-free number “1145” and be connected to the services
they need. The referral services currently consist of legal, shelter, psychosocial, and child protection services. Funded by the World Bank, with technical assistance from CARE Nepal, this initiative will digitalise the recording, reporting, and referral system of the National Women Commission and contribute to effective tracking of cases through an online Case Management System. Such a mechanism will be a breakthrough in ensuring a survivor-centric approach to supporting girls and women from the time of registering their call to the time their case is closed. This innovative use of technology will address reported cases in a systematised manner to also allow effective tracking of cases and contribute to national data management on GBV.
Opportunities like the Helpline are a way to break the culture of shame and silence around GBV. If we can discard the cynicism and stop the blame game, there is much goodwill to capitalise on. As a first step to doing that, make the call, break the silence.
Thapa is Program Coordinator for Gender Based Violence at CARE Nepal; the views expressed here are the author’s own