telelogo4.jpg (7056 bytes)   Kathmandu, Wednesday, 19 May 2004

5  Q U E S T I O N S

Nepali women can rule the country efficiently if provided with equal opportunity

Prof. Dr. Shanta Thapalia, Founder, Legal Aid and Consultancy Center (LACC)

Profile of Dr. Shanta Thapaliya

Prof. Dr. Shanta Thapalia is born in Taplejung on Jan 01, 1942. She is the first woman in Nepal to hold a Ph.D. Degree in Family law. Prof. Dr. Shanta Thapalia is basically a Lawyer, an Academician and a Legal Activist. Being the only Family Law Expert in the country she holds the profound opportunity of being a first woman Professor at the law faculty of Nepal Law Campus. She is the first lady in Nepal to hold LL.M. Degree from University of California and her Ph.D. Degree from the University of Delhi. She is highly qualified and trained abroad and within the country. She was also decorated with Mahedra Bidhya Bhushan Padak – Ka medal. She was also nominated as Prominent Women Personality in Autonomous Advocacy Group of Women Personalities from Nepal by HMG in 2003 and recently she was nominated as member of National Judiciary Academy for two years.

Prof. Thapalia was appointed as a Member of various bodies of the HMG, Nepal. The Police Reformation and Recommendation Commission, HMG, Academic Council of Tribhuvan University, The Working Committee of CEDAW Reporting Committee, HMG / National Planning Commission and the Member of the Working Committee for legal affairs and participated in various activities of the MWSW, HMG/ Ministry of Women and Social Welfare.

In 1987 She established the Legal Aid and Consultancy Center (LACC) as its founder president. Since then she has been continuing as its president. Through this organization she has provided legal aid to the thousands of helpless and needy women and children through out the country. She has worked for the protection and promotion of the dignity and rights of women and children.

For her lifetime contribution to the legal field profession, she has been awarded the senior Ashoka Fellow and was also honored by being elected a lifetime member of the Ashoka Fellowship.

She has to her credit several publications concerning Family Laws, property rights of women and women related issues in Nepal. Prof. Thapalia was nominated one of the coordinator to co-ordinate and guide the team of women from Nepal to the NGO forum, Beijing, the parallel event to the fourth World Conference on Women 1995. She has devoted her lifetime to the development of the legal field, Upliftment of women and providing valuable legal advisory services to the Country.

TGQ1: Talks of women empowerment, women and development and women in development have become a regular feature in Katmandu’s five star hotel seminars. Have all these brought any visible differences in the actual lives of the women of Nepal? What is the present status of Nepali women in Nepal? Your comments please.

Dr. Thapaliya: A person (woman) irrespective of his/her age, sex, caste, race, religion and creed must be able to enjoy freedoms, full human rights and peace in the society. He/she must have the right to justice. He/she must be able to live as a dignified human being. The right to freedoms, human rights, peace and justice are basic ideals for human dignity

In order to put these ideals into practice, the United Nations identified areas, which directly affected the status of women - especially women's status starting from her home to the neighbourhood, society, community and nation as a whole. This also included the socio-cultural influences and variables interacting with women - influences upon the illiterate and well-educated women, problems faced by the professional women in administrative, technical, judicial, legal sectors and completion in male-dominated finance and business areas.

The lack of access to health and education, economic hardship in managing the household, long hours of un-paid domestic work, unclean, dusty and dirty work environment, frequent and unwanted child births, social injustices, superstitious beliefs and domestic violence were identified as the major causes which effected the status of women. Consequently the United Nations came up with strategies to improve the quality of women’s life starting from her childhood to a full-fledged individual member of the society. The main focus was given on right to equality, health, education and justice. The previous efforts, though well intentioned, have lacked effectiveness, precisely because they did not deal with the root cause of the problem.

The United Nations identified the empowerment of women as an important factor for achieving a sustainable peaceful and preposterous home and society. The UN launched various strategies for women’s full empowerment. The new principles and approaches like Women-in-Development (WID) Women-And-Development (WAD) and Gender-And-Development (GAD) were implemented to empower women.

The UN came up with a strong principle of WID in 1960s. It was based on welfare approach and women were to be considered as a contributory partner in the development process. The WID approach saw women as a sub-group who had to have special treatment, separately from the mainstream development processes. Even before the launching of WID programme, the necessity and importance of women’s contribution to the development of the society was recognized, since women related projects and programmes were frequently organized in Nepal. .

In the subsequent phases, women and development (WAD) approach was launched in 1970s, which highlighted the need to include women in policy and to address the specific needs of women. The women of different streams and walks of life were to be integrated to various aspects of development under these principles of empowerment. But this phase failed to bring the women into the mainstream of development process and the principles merely turned to be a loud cry. The women still faced same problems, experienced hardships and violation of their basic rights. The society did not change and no qualitative improvement were brought to the lives of women

In the 1980s, the Gender and Development (GAD)' approach acknowledged that women cannot be seen in isolation and that development must focus on the interactive links and relationships between men and women. The GAD principles were to be implemented with a view focusing on the gender based inequality faced by the woman folk of the country. The gendered role of men and women became the target of attack. The provisions of UN Conventions and Declaration on rights of Women provided new thoughts that women are in no way inferior to men. This principle offered a right-based approach – for example men and women must be treated equally in terms of job opportunities and enjoyment of full human rights

But, even the GAD approach proved inadequate for dealing with women's disproportionate share of the human costs of ongoing development processes. In a real world where the impoverishment and displacement of women worldwide have reached crisis proportions, piecemeal approaches are not enough. Women no longer want half-measures such as ' inclusion', 'participation' and ' integration' in a system that is fundamentally inequitable.

As Nepal is a member of the United Nations, it has obligation to adhere to various International human rights standards and ensure the equality of women with men. The women must be given equal rights with men in education, jobs, access to health care, bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit and land ownership. Nepal ratified the CEDAW, CRC, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention of the Political Rights of Women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Thus, Nepal is under obligation to implement the provisions and principles of the UN Conventions and Treaties to improve the quality of women’s lives. The CEDAW convention is a comprehensive document of civil, political, economic, social, cultural rights related to women. It prohibits any kind of discrimination between men and women.

It is not to say that there have been no efforts to empower women. Various efforts have been put forth to empower women. However, the benefits have not been able to percolate down to the society. Many people are still not aware of women’s rights.

The status of women compared to men is different in geographical regions (rural, urban, hill, mountain, terai) of the country. There are also varying practices among different classes, castes, ethnicity, tribes, dalits etc. The status of women as a single group does not provide the ideas of all the women in the country. It is not possible to measure the status of women on one parallel line. But, the woman as a whole are trying to be empowered, wanting to know more, practicing their inborn legal rights, feeling competent with their male counterparts, wanting to occupy positions, trying to make decisions within the family etc. The Women have been able to successfully amend the national code (Muluki Ain) and establish their inheritance right to property along with their brothers. Further, they have also been successful to amend the laws relating to marriage, divorce, rape and abortion etc. For the first time, a woman was able to exercise her reproductive rights.

Although the 2001 census report reveals women to be far behind the males in terms of education, employment, in decision making positions, in land ownerships, business etc. Women still have no control over economic and physical resources and lagging behind in terms of political power. The outlook of society towards women has not been changed to the desired extent. They are still suffering from economic crisis. They are still subjected to rape, trafficking and various kinds of domestic violence. They have no access to health and the domestic workloads are still on the shoulders of women.

TGQ2: Women, as per our Hindu mythology, are considered to be a form of SHAKTI. Do you as a modern legal practitioner subscribe to this age-old view? How a girl, a woman, a widow or a single woman is taken in today’s Nepali society? The society is liberal or yet conservative?

Dr. Thapaliya: I am a modern legal practitioner, a law professor and an activist. I do believe that a women is a power in herself. When we study Hindu philosophy, we find many instances of good and positive thinking towards women. But side-by-side, we also find negative perception against women. They are subjected to inhuman superstitious and evil practices Child marriage is rooted in the society. This has devalued the importance of a woman’s dignity and deprives her human rights. She has been treated as a subordinate body of a man. She has been subjected to the hard and orthodox Brahamihical system, which blatantly impinges her human rights. Widows are deprived of their right to live with dignity. She is considered as a machine for producing children. She is always referred to as fair sex and weaker sex etc. After a long time now we are talking about the empowerment of women, in fact, women is a power.

TGQ3: International conferences on Women are being held every now and then. Have such conferences and meetings at the international level made any impact on the thinking of Nepali government specially after the restoration of the democratic order in the country? Your remarks please.

Dr. Thapaliya: In fact lots of positive and far reaching initiatives have been undertaken for empowerment of women in the country.

The Ministry of Women and Children and Social Welfare and the National Commission on Women have been formed.

National plan of action on CEDAW has been initiated. The Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2001) has accepted the women’s mainstreaming in development process. Gender and development are integrated into sector wise policy and programmes of the country Commitment has been made in the Ninth Five Year Plan to review the existing legislation on women and enact appropriate laws in accordance with the international norms.

Amendment of the Local Self-Government Act with 20% reservation for women is an affirmative action in the direction of women’s empowerment This has helped approximately 40, 000 women’s participation in the local government. Labour legislation provides maternity leave and breast-feeding break.

However the prevailing strong patriarchal culture and social system, which emphasize traditional roles of women, prove major hindrances to implement the provisions of international Conventions, Treaties and even domestic laws for the empowerment of women. The basic fault lies with the traditional outlook of society towards women.

TGQ4: A debate on whether the girls be allowed to enjoy parental property or not continued for some time in Nepal. As you were also one of the proponents, tell us how much efforts yielded the result. What impact this change will have in the society?

Dr. Thapaliya: The National Code (Muluki Ain) Eleventh Amendment Act was passed in BS 2058. It took six long years for women rights and human rights activists to get this Amendment enacted. Its provisions are beginning to be implemented smoothly. Till now its impact has been very good. People have accepted the Amendment positively. They started to treat their daughters better than earlier. Parents are encouraging their daughters to have a good education too.

TGQ5: A section of Nepali media have directly challenged the inner potentials and the capabilities of Nepali women. What could have been the reason? Was it a media bias? Or in effect the women of Nepal are in a state wherein they can’t handle the affairs of the State if allowed to rule? What makes you and your group so sure that you can run the affairs of the state? What is the basis of your strength?

Dr. Thapaliya: A section of traditional Nepali media has always downplayed women’s rights in the past. In fact, they underestimated the potential of women. This was evinced during the movement for women’s property rights. This section of media always highlighted only the negative aspects of inheritance right to property. Traditions, social values, customs and the culture have accorded women a subordinate to man. The patriarchal society of Nepal considers the male as a super manager of the home, society and the nation. This section of media always viewed women in stereotype traditional role. This is a sorry state of affairs, they failed to realize that time has been changed. If given an opportunity a housewife can also rule the state. There have been strong women rulers in South Asian region- Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan all had strong and capable women Prime Ministers and Presidents. There is no reason to believe that why Nepali women cannot occupy the position of their South Asian sisters, if they are provided with equal opportunity. Unhealthy writing against woman in editorial degrades the personality of the editor who is a special man.




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