Nepal's widows

8 December 2007

by Lily Thapa

In a patriarchal and male dominated society like Nepal, where women are systematically discriminated, the status of widow's women (to whom we use the term ' Single Women ' due to the agony and humiliation attached in the word widow in Nepali) is totally low and they are the most marginalized and abused sector of the population . The scenario worsens no sooner the Nepalese woman is widowed and is begun to be seen as a curse befallen on the family. The death of the husband opens the floodgate of hell for her and the ocean of miseries fall on her if the woman happens to be quite young. A young single woman (widow) is often viewed as an adversary and the family often taunts her as being responsible for her husband's death. One of the biggest traumas single women undergo after their husband's death arises from her apprehensions about her and her children's future. They are put through a life of humiliation and are always looked at with hatred and suspicion. The moment they become single they loose their independence and every means of happiness and get tied down by the ancient iron rules, culture, systems and beliefs of the society.

Lily Thapa is Chairperson of Women for Human Rights in Nepal

Generally, in Nepal a women's position is derived only from her relationship with the men under whose relational or legal protection she is. This is her father, brother, husband and then her son during her later years. In a Hindu society, religious and cultural practices have maintained implicit and explicit rules where by the woman has restricted mobility, no decision-making and no access to resources. Poverty, illiteracy and the conflict situation force single women to seek refuge in informal sector and high chances of trafficking has been occurred. The situation clearly shows that single women suffer both economically and emotionally. The rising number of young single women resulting from the conflict has forced them to tear away from the cultural and social codes and ethics and face the world with no skills and tools for earning driving them to trafficking and vulnerabilities.

The conflict further added multidimensional issues on single women. Thousands of women have lost their husbands at a very young age due to the insurgency and many still live under profound emotional shock. Hundreds of them are displaced from various districts and working in the informal sector out of dire necessity, such as sex workers, in bars and as maids and helpers for very low pay. Such single women are extremely vulnerable to abuse and torture. There is no concrete authentic data and information related to single women and no data on single women (widows) who have been displaced to urban areas and pushed into the informal employment sector. There is still no mechanism to address psychological trauma and mental distress of single women. There are no immediate trauma or relief centers that will assist single women and their children.

According to a study on status of widows in Nepal conducted by an organization Women for Human Rights, has found 67% of the widows are between 20 to 30 years of age. It is also known that most of the single women are traumatized and are most vulnerable victims in terms of basic need, health, education and psychological impacts. Although the constitution of the kingdom of Nepal, guarantees equality between all citizens, there are still more discriminatory provision in various laws against single women that conflict with rights provided under the CEDAW convention. Strong patriarchal culture and conservative practices emphasizes traditional roles of a single women, is a major hurdle in the implementation of human rights convention in Nepal. Lack of conceptual clarity related to the women's human rights and to the principle of equality among people has created confusion, which further limits single women's fundamental rights and freedom. Most of the women in rural areas are not fully aware on their human rights as well as not aware on any kinds of conventions, declarations that the government has signed in.

After the strong suggestions to the government by CEDAW committee in 2004, there have been some changes in the discriminatory laws, mostly through the Eleventh Amendment to the country code of Nepal resulted single women's rights to property. The government has taken some initiatives to implement or monitor their actual implementation but only for conflict made single women bypassed other marginalized single women. The government also started some social security measures to address the needs of single women by providing compensation to the spouse of deceased, scholarships, services at health posts and identifying the measures through program planning.

Furthermore, it is necessary to build the mechanism to make the women's voices heard at all level. In order to make it happen there should be proper provisions to measure the implementation of CEDAW convention as well as UNSCR 1325. Less implementations from all sides protecting women's rights as detailed under Geneva conventions and CEDAW conventions increasing violence against single women. Lack of necessary resources to organize the single women in the communities simply affects the activities that have identified to bring them in the mainstream. In order to overcome from this situation there should be implementation of the commitment to include single women, especially the conflict affected women in the substance of peace processes.

In this regard ,Women for Human Rights, single women group is formed to address all these issues and mobilizing thousands of young single women in 170 village development committees of 40 districts of Nepal since last thirteen years. The single women groups in the districts are playing an active role in the peace movement whose work is met with tremendous support from local level and national level.

The unique thing about those groups is the combined family of Maoists, Security forces and any Political groups decreasing the revenge attitude in the community and these groups are working as an agent of peacemakers. These groups include all categories of single women (widows) and encourage and ensure the increased participation of all kind of single women (widows) in decision making at all levels The groups are empowered to form their own associations so that they can earn collectively articulate their needs. The group is trying to be fully integrated into the economic and social development of their respective communities at all levels following the CEDAW conventions and UNSCR 1325 to ensure the rights of the single women.

The saying of Mahatma Gandhi - If only the women of the world together they will dazzle the world.


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