Sometime back, I met a man who has been part of many assignments on gender empowerment and women’s rights. At his house, he ordered his wife to bring him two glasses of water even when the water container and glasses were less than 10 feet away. This is perhaps telling of the state of affairs when it comes to gender equality. In Nepal, cleaning, looking after the house, and other household chores are always seen as the woman’s responsibility. Most ageing parents in families are taken care of by women, as daughters or daughter-in-laws. So when you have 50 percent of the population not willing to accept household responsibilities and continuing to think of it as the woman’s job, to get these folks to understand women’s rights to grant citizenship to their children seems like a distant dream.
Women for Women
My wife, after watching the Rani Mukherjee-starrer Bollywood movie Mardani, posted on Facebook reasoning as to why the movie did not do well—it questions the position of women in society, which men are not willing to accept. In a dialogue-heavy scene, the protagonist woman police officer talks about how women are just part of curses, as most South Asian expletives insult mothers and sisters. Parents who send their daughters to liberal arts colleges outside Nepal expect their daughters to get used to second-grade treatment when compared to their male siblings after coming back. The young girls then decide that Nepal is not the place for them and leave. In recent years, the growth in out-migration amongst educated Nepali youths can be attributed to women not being able to live in conservative families, either as daughters or daughters-in-law.
The discourse on women’s empowerment has been imposed as a western ideology in Nepal. It takes place along the lines of development, which has more to do with the work of NGOs and consulting assignments rather than real transformation as an outcome of self-realisation about the need to treat women as equals.
Furthermore, donors that write about being equal-opportunity employers and against discrimination ironically have two set of consulting rates and salaries, one for Nepalis and another for non-Nepalis. Even if one is an international consultant working across the world, if you are a Nepali passport holder, you are discriminated against. Similarly, gender equality and empowerment have turned into mere sloganeering as women activists themselves traumatise their daughters-in-law and female domestic helps at home.
Again, there is a need to introspect on how to internalise this issue and not limit it to sloganeering. In this context, Rwanda could be an example for Nepal. The African nation has been able to overcome violence and rebuild its society by internalising women’s rights and equality. Today half of Rwanda’s parliamentarians are women and we see women leading political offices, the bureaucracy and businesses.
Globally, male-dominated societies have never taken the initiative to grant equal rights to women. It is the women who have fought for it, whether it be allowing women to vote in the US or challenging such laws in Europe. In Denmark, for instance, the issue of granting citizenship based on the mother’s citizenship had to be considered when young mobile women professionals started to travel on their own. There were kids born out of ‘summer romances’ and granting these children citizenship became an issue. It was then made possible for single mothers to pass on Danish citizenship to their children.
Changing Nepali Society
Over the years, Nepali society has also transformed. From less than 12 percent girls appearing in Class 12 examinations in 1992, the ratio is now nearly 50 percent. More girls are completing higher education and are the breadwinners of their families. There are more independent women who can and have the right to decide how to live their lives. They have stronger views on marriage, bearing children, and how they wish to live. Children may not only be born out of marital relationships. Perhaps, people at the helm of policymaking, politics, and civil society are still not able to comprehend the pace at which society is changing.
To build a strong economic future for Nepal, we cannot ignore the rights of half of the population. Women should, on an equal footing as men, be able to ensure that their children have the right to Nepali citizenship. Nepali women married to men that are non-Nepali citizens cannot be discriminated against. If children born from Nepali men and non-Nepali women can get Nepali citizenship then why cannot Nepali mothers pass citizenship to their children?
We cannot find political pretext for the law being taken advantage of in the Tarai and many Indians getting Nepali citizenship. The state needs to be a strong regulator and such excuses cannot deprive the rights of 15 million women!
Nepal, unlike the conservative Middle East and other societies, is more liberal and respectful of its women. If we can accept women as our bosses in the workplace, as heads of businesses, and behind the wheels of vehicles, then why we are we discriminating against them when it comes to citizenship? If we are providing young women liberal education on the same footing as men and opportunities at par with men, then why we are shying away from providing citizenship to children based on their mother’s Nepali nationality?
It is time to transform our thinking and change the future of half of our population.