Marginalization of Madhesi women in Nepal
On Monday 8 October 2018, UNPO and AIM submitted a joint report for the 71st session of the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), during which Nepal will be under review. The report focuses on the marginalisation that Madheshi women continue to face in Nepali society, despite Nepal’s adoption of a new constitution in 2015. UNPO and AIM criticise the institutionalised discrimination of Madheshi women due to lack of implementation of the 2015 Constitution which has the potential to assert some of the obstacles that they continue to face.
Since the conflict between Nepal and the East India Company, where the Terai's Inhabitants fought alongside the British, these people have long faced discrimination from the Nepali government. The Terai region, home to majority Madheshi and Tharu people, can be distinguished from Nepal by its different cultural aspects, including the Hindi language. Therefore, the Madheshi women, on the count of being women and belonging to a minority that experiences marginalisation due to gender, caste, language, culture and region face multi-level discrimination which damages their access to equal rights as women and as citizens of Nepal.
The Alternative Report addresses the many short-comings on the part of the Nepali government to implement programmes and make progress on the spread of equality of minority women, more specifically of the Madheshi community, in the more rural parts of the country. The sheer existence of a more progressive Constitution, as adopted in 2015, alone will not achieve sufficient results needed to take on the marginalisation that most minority women have felt for decades within Nepal.
Among the various socio-cultural obstacles that Madeshi women continue to face are access to appropriate health care, adequate living conditions and equality amongst the sexes in multiple areas of society, including education and governmental representation. Linked to traditional Hindu, chaupadi is one of the most damaging practices that continues to be prevalent in most areas of Terai and leads to other forms of indirect discrimination of Madheshi women.
Chaupadi is the practice of banishment that women face during menstruation, when they are urged to live outside of common familial and communal spaces. In such banishment, young girls and women are taught to view themselves as unclean, thus leading to a handful of other worrying outcomes. This includes their access to appropriate health care, adequate living standards, their equality amongst men—ranging from school attendance to representation within government. Another clear example of discrimination against women is the prevalence of child marriages amongst young girls in Nepal, which affects 37 percent of the total Nepali population. Despite the Nepali legislation introduced in 1963, one in three Nepali girls under the age of 18 are married. And within the Dalit community (sub-caste of the Madheshi) child marriage and early pregnancies are even more common. It is clear that legislation alone in Nepal has and will not correct such issues. Early child marriage, in conjunction with the chaupadi practice, impede women from standard and higher levels of education, which then, systemically, leads to minuscule levels of Madheshi women in government and representation at local and state levels.
In addition to the above obstacles, the Nepali government has not done nearly enough to address the issue of passing of citizenship from mother to child. As the Madheshi live close to the North Indian border, it is common for Madheshi women to marry non-Nepali men—especially due to difference in socio-cultural orientation between the Madheshi and Nepali. The Nepali government has turned its head in disregard to more than a large handful of cases where the children of Madheshi women and foreign fathers are denied Nepali citizenship. In such cases, these children are often denied birth certificates as well—a deciding factor for attending educational institutions, where such certificates are needed in order to confirm registration and enrollment in school programmes.
In light of these elements, UNPO and AIM urge the Nepali government to:
Recognise the multi-faceted discrimination that women of the Madheshi community continue to face on part of their identity.
Address the problems that are specific to the Madheshi community and give better opportunities especially to Madheshi women, for them to be able to leave the vicious circle of socio-economic hardship, discrimination, gender-based violence and exclusion.
Take special measures to encourage and promote the participation of women of the Madheshi community in local and national political and public life through awareness-raising campaigns and trainings for members of the Madheshi community at a grassroots level.
Implement a Nepali programme focused on closing disparities in access to female reproductive healthcare services based on geography, ethnicity and socio-economic status, particularly targeted to include members of the Madheshi community.
Arrange sexual education and contraceptive distribution programmes targeting the Madheshi community.
The full report is available here.
Photo courtesy of Chris Anderson