Women and the welfare stateThe second class treatment that women feel they are getting should be eliminated
A welfare state provides services and support across the life course from childhood to old age. The denizens of a successfully established welfare state feel the presence of the government in a manner that makes one feel as if a guardian was watching over them at all times. While the intricacies of welfare-based governance is a very particular facet to be discussed, considering gendered aspects of a welfare state is just as essential. In the 1950s and 1960s, social policies and understanding of institutions were gender blind and focused primarily on income and class inequalities. The rise of feminist writers in the 1970s led to a great ‘academic and political appraisal in the British welfare state’. In Feminist Theories of the Welfare State, Sheila Blackburn talks
about socialist feminists’ reasoning of ‘welfare state benefitting from women’s unpaid social and biological reproduction at home’.
The 1942 Beveridge Report, which set the foundations of a welfare state through concepts of national insurance and health services, was an important document in history. It was disregarded by socialist feminists as it laid down ideas of married women being second class citizens in relation to social security due to their small contribution. According to them, it put women under the category of dependents who abandoned paid work to be supported by a male breadwinner. Reforms to change the rhetoric of keeping women under ‘sexist and imperial’ objectives of the economically advantaged male groups gradually emerged with social security benefits becoming more disaggregated and equal for both women and men.
The concept of welfare state in relation to individuals, especially women who have faced discrimination and oversight from the state for an extended period of time, has been a longstanding issue, in both the developed and developing worlds. The division of labour in Nepal’s history was caste identified, but there has also been a gender-based division of labour which led to women taking up familial responsibility. The time has come for the discourse on gender equality to move beyond the basics, and proceed to innovation, prosperity, increasing happiness and wellbeing.
Lately, numerous incidents of inhumane acts of rape and murder have been reported. When such pressing human rights violations emerge in the country, it is difficult to really delve into matters of welfare and development. Only after these urgent matters have been addressed can a state bring into its governance matters of other welfare ingredients like shared parental responsibility, paid vacation for rest and mindfulness, fewer working hours to increase productivity and so forth.
Recently, perspectives have emerged that increasing empowerment of Nepali women in the government or private sector was leading to an inferiority complex among men, and that it had resulted in rape as a way of getting back. This notion is highly contentious. The assumption that a man’s ego is so fragile that the development of a woman’s personal or professional capacity leads him to violate and destroy the entire being of a woman is unbelievable. It is not a man’s job to punish, and definitely not a woman’s job to limit herself to fearing for her life and wellbeing.
In a welfare state that caters for its citizens, half of whom are women, the second class treatment that women feel they are getting through their subjugation—in legislation or customs—should be reformed and reconstructed. In State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, Francis Fukuyama asserts that states should move beyond the usual economic policy prescriptions. To add to that, sound and befitting social policies that are gender responsive should be considered. The dilemma that working women face today, juggling work and family life with almost no familial responsibility on the man’s shoulders, has to be altered if there is to be true welfare.
Notwithstanding the challenges, there have been numerous achievements in women’s areas—in health care, social security, the newly introduced Civil Code’s provision of equal lineage rights, and more. Women’s services and contributions have to be duly regarded, and all individuals must feel that the state’s presence is unbiased and just. Finally, to truly be a welfare state, policies should be formulated through an all-inclusive lens in terms of gender, caste, economic capacity and groups that have long felt isolated from the power domain. Every individual must be given equal opportunities to grow and live a respectable life in their community, so that they can eventually give something back to it.
Yadav is pursuing a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy at Tribhuvan University.