A recently proposed law by the Nepal government that puts discriminatory restrictions on travel for women has led hundreds of women to march the streets of Kathmandu in protest.
Hundreds of women rallied the streets of the Nepalese capital on Friday, seeking to scrap a recently proposed law. The crowd was populated by social activists, writers and journalists, mostly women who chanted slogans demanding equality.
The new bill, proposed by the K.P. Oli government requires that any woman below the age of 40, while travelling abroad, would need to present a letter of consent from the guardian – the implication being that the guardian is a male member – of her family, specifying the reason for travel. The protesters are calling their agitation as an assertion of their right to justice, and point out that even the constitution of the country guarantees equal rights to women.
The Nepal government has defended its stand by mentioning its concern about the rising number of sexual and physical crimes against Nepalese women abroad. On being questioned, the immigration officials have stated: “It’s not law yet, but something that is being proposed before the Home Ministry in view of a series of incidents of assault and exploitation on women abroad.”
As a matter of fact, violence against Nepalese women has been on the rise at home too. According to Gender Based Violence – a study conducted in three districts by the Nepalese government, almost half the women (48 percent) reported to have experienced violence at home or outside. The category of violence ranged from emotional, sexual to economic. Nepal is also one of the top countries with a high prevalence rate of child marriage, at around 40 percent.
There have been 1,271 cases of rape in the last 10 months in Nepal, with the victims including 804 minors. The Oli government has failed to bring justice to those guilty in a large number of these cases. Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal has also come under flak for saying, “This was neither the first case of rape and murder, nor will it be the last in the country.”
In this context, the women in Nepal have put forward a strong narrative, that they are not going to back down from their demands. They also said that they will not give in to the “authoritarianism” of the Oli government, which has also earned a reputation for being anti-women. His cabinet has only two portfolio positions being held by women, and the citizens of Nepal and intellectuals had strongly criticised the government for the same.
Adding an economic context to the issues, reports state that around half a million Nepalis, many amongst them women, leave the country each year for educational opportunities. The Remittance contributes nearly one-third of the Gross Domestic Product of the country.
In the given context, it is extremely regressive for a South Asian, developing nation to put forward a law that takes women’s struggle for equality back by half a century. The idea that a male member is the ‘guardian’ of a 39-year-old adult woman, for example, is regressive, to say the least, and the fact that his authorisation is needed for her to travel outside the country just points to the ruling government’s inefficiency in addressing actual issues in the appropriate manner. The alarming statistics for crime against women in Nepal and the government’s failure to address them depict the same.
The women protesting the bill walked the streets with placards. One placard read “E Hajur, euta prashna sodhna painchha? hami le sas lina kasko anumati chahinchha?” (Do I please have the right to ask a question? Who do I need to get permission to breathe from?)
While the fact that such a law could have taken inception is appalling, it is the powerful struggle of these women that will no doubt be a source of strength and inspiration for millions of women around the world.
May these women keep raising their power and voices against such discriminatory practices!