Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has a per capital income of roughly $300 Cdn. About 90 per cent of the population relies on agriculture for a living and over half of the people survive on less than $1 a day.
The country's primary industries are carpets, clothing, and tourism. (The government charges a minimum of $50,000 US for each expedition to Mount Everest). However, agriculture still accounts for 40 per cent of the country's GDP.
The isolationist Rana regime remained in place for over a century. During that time, the royal family was reduced to figurehead status. When the British left India in 1947, the Ranas lost much of their support, leaving the door opening for an anti-Rana revolution. King Tribhuvan, a descendant of the original Shahs, left Nepal for India and, with diplomatic support from New Dehli, put the monarchy back into power.
In 1951, the first of Nepal's post-Rana constitutions was proclaimed. It established a multiparty system and a government of Ranas and members of the new Nepali Congress Party. It also established an elected constituent assembly, but those elections were never held. The next constitution came in 1959. It established the House of Representatives and the National Assembly, but much of the governing power remained with the king.
Three years later, another constitution established the "no party" system of government, called the panchayat, in which the prime minister, cabinet and much of the assembly were named by the king. Political parties and organizations were outlawed under the new system. In 1980, the citizens of Nepal voted against returning to a multiparty system. An amendment to the constitution shortly after the referendum allowed for direct elections to the panchayat.
By the end of the '80s, however, a people's movement had grown strong enough to topple the panchayat system. Hundreds of people died in the ensuing conflict and King Birendra dissolved Nepal's cabinet. The Nepali Congress formed an interim government and proclaimed a new constitution, one that allowed for a multiparty, democratic system of government.
The massacre of the Royal
family in June 2001 has thrown the country into chaos. Nepal has
had three different kings in the space of four days. The government
has imposed a strict curfew to deal with violent riots. And while most
reports say that the crown prince killed his family, the government
is saying that the shootings were accidental.
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According to the 1991 census, the female literacy rate is 26 percent, compared with 57 percent for men. Human rights groups report that girls attend secondary schools at a rate half that of boys. There are many NGO's focused on integrating women into society and the economy. These NGO's work in the areas of literacy, small business, skills transfer, and prevention of trafficking in women and girls. There also are a growing number of women's advocacy groups.
Most political parties have women's groups. Members of Parliament have begun working for the passage of tougher laws for crimes of sexual assault, but have had little success so far.
More about the human rights situation of women in Nepal in this report.