Print Friendly and PDF
only search openDemocracy.net

The struggles of Women Human Rights Defenders in Nepal

We spoke with Ms. Rajkumari Upadhaya about her experiences as a WHRD in Nepal, changing societal attitudes towards women and hope for the future. Español

Nepalese youth rally on a prade with the slogan 'Men March for Woman' during 107th International Women's Day Celebrates in Patan, Nepal on Wednesday, March 08, 2017. Photo: Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto. All rights reserved.

Women in Nepal face many challenges due to issues of inequality and injustice in the society. Gender discrimination and gender-based violence are just some of the serious and widespread problems for women. Nepali women are not treated equally, not just in practice, but under law as well. The law regarding nationality, for example, discriminates against women, making some of them “second-class” citizens in society.

The challenges on both the local and national levels can seem insurmountable and sometimes those working to defend women’s rights come under attack. A recent case reported by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) shows how dangerous it can be for women human rights defenders (WHRDs): Ms. Rajkumari Upadhaya of the District Women’s Rights Forum in Parsa District, Nepal was physically attacked by her neighbours, allegedly for her work defending women. The Forum in Parsa is part of a grassroots network empowering women and combating issues of child marriage and gender-based violence. Since the attack against Upadhaya, AHRC has reported another case of persecution of a WHRD.

WHRDs’ efforts are crucial to creating a more just Nepal in which all citizens’ rights are respected and protected. Greater efforts must be made to protect Nepali WHRDs. The cases cited above show that the issues they work on can be sensitive and controversial in nature, potentially causing a backlash from opponents in society. 

As AHRC’s Nepal Desk Officer Mr. Prakash Mohara has asserted: "In addition to providing donations to women's groups, networks and NGOs, it is important that women get better protection in Nepal. Donors and the government of Nepal must not only provide occasional safety training [but they] must ensure women’s safety and security 24/7 and 365 days a year. An increased number of and better access to safe-houses must be a priority in policies and the implementation thereof, if we are to ensure the safety of WHRDs and all women."

In other cases, even women do not respect other women. I believe that unless a woman respects other women, overall progress is not possible.

To draw more attention to the efforts and struggles of WHRDs in Nepal within the 16 days of activism campaign, CIVICUS and AHRC had the opportunity to speak with Upadhaya about her experiences working on women’s rights issues. Her thoughts from the interview are as follows and have been translated from Nepali into English and edited for length.

 

Interview with Nepali WHRD Ms. Rajkumari Upadhaya

How did you get involved in human rights work, specifically working on women’s rights issues?

As a woman, I am much more interested in the rights of women. That is why I am involved in women’s rights issues. I used to be the District Women’s Chairperson of a political party, and heard many cases of violence against women. I used to visit the district police office to help women, and it began to attract my interest more. My friends, brothers and sisters also gave me opportunities to work on women’s rights.

 

How has being a woman human rights defender (WHRD) in Nepal been a challenge?

There are many challenges while working as a woman human rights defender. We raise issues and develop different plans and policies for further advocacy. However, the central level has had little success in putting these into action. Sometimes women’s issues are not being heard in Kathmandu. In other cases, even women do not respect other women. It creates challenge and keeps other women from progressing.

I believe that unless a woman respects other women, overall progress for women is not possible.

 

Despite the challenges, what do you enjoy most about your work?

In our work as leaders, sometimes we receive appreciation, and sometimes we receive challenges. However, we shouldn’t mind it. We are the ones who fix household problems. We come across different issues and cases. We also come across cases between husbands and wives. We must work to settle their issues and protect their households. We must be careful so that they can live peacefully. We might be scolded by the husband claiming that we are trying to destroy their family, and the wife might also think the same. Our role should be to help them resolve their problem. I like this work and have been engaged in it for the last 10 to 12 years.

The problem is lack of implementation. Even if cases are filed, it takes many years to reach a conclusion and perpetrators are not always held accountable.

What are the main women’s rights issues in Nepal (on the local and national level)?

Let us start from the local level, where local elections recently took place. Nepal’s constitutional provisions include equal rights for all. Nevertheless, women cannot access the same positions in local government as men. Therefore, I fear that women’s issues have been sidelined.

The practice of child marriage, polygamous marriage and dowry is widespread. We are finding it difficult to end such practices. They may end in some years, but we cannot guarantee it yet. Women are being accused of being witches. Why only women, and not men? These are some of the issues in question, and we must continue working.

At the national level, we are raising the issue of citizenship in the name of a mother. If a woman gives birth to a child, and the mother is a Nepalese citizen, why cannot the child become a citizen through the mother’s name? From the local to the national level, and through different human rights networks, we have been raising these issues.

  

How have civil society and HRDs tried to address some of these issues you mentioned?

Civil society, human rights activists and organisations have offered their assistance. Male human rights activists have also played a crucial role. We can never be negative against them, as they have played a very important role in our work. Civil society and HRDs have been supporting our network, and promoting our work.

If there is at least one safe house in the district level, women will be better protected. Everyone should understand this.  

How has the government addressed or maybe not addressed these issues?

The government has tried to address these issues. There are plans and policies against polygamous marriages, for example. Our laws also forbid child marriages. However, the problem is lack of implementation. Even if cases are filed, it takes many years to reach a conclusion and perpetrators are not always held accountable. Due to the delay, victims are further victimised.

 

What still needs to be done to ensure greater protection for women in Nepali society?

There is a practice of expecting the central level of government to do something. Local and district level activities are hardly promoted. It does not mean that nothing has been done at local levels. However, the main problem is it does not go from the local to the central level, but rather exactly the opposite. Then the issue gets diluted.

Also, when women are in trouble, there are no safe houses at the district levels. We have to send women in trouble to Kathmandu for safekeeping. It becomes very expensive for us to manage. There is one safe house in Parsa district, but it is in a dilapidated condition. If there is at least one safe house in the district level, women will be better protected. Everyone should understand this. This is the responsibility of the government of Nepal, as well as different organisations and donor agencies to protect women. 

* * *

To learn more about the efforts of women’s groups in Nepal, please see examples from the following organisations’ missions and activities:

- The Women’s Foundation Nepal - https://www.womenepal.org/about-us/about-us/

- Women Lead Nepal - http://women-lead.org/vision

- Asha Nepal - http://www.asha-nepal.org/pages/home/

- Women for Human Rights - http://whr.org.np/

- NGO Saathi - https://www.saathi.org.np/

About the authors

CIVICUS es la alianza global de organizaciones y activistas de la sociedad civil. www.civicus.org

CIVICUS is the global alliance of civil society organisations and activists. www.civicus.org


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.