‘Untouchable’ Women Struggle to Advance in Nepal

BY VITAL VOICES
Mar 11, 2010

In Nepal, Dalit women are considered ‘untouchable’. Punita Rimal of Women News Network, a Nepali woman herself, reports on the situation of the Dalit:

 

“Dalit women are denied not once but three times in Nepal society –as a woman, as a Dalit, and as a Dalit woman.”

Rimal explains that the caste-system is far from a thing of the past, indeed Dalit women are discriminated against frequently, as reported in Nepali news media. Political hardship and poverty add to the social marginalization and exclusion of these women, who as members of the Dalit caste make up 20 percent of the nation’s population, according to the Women News Network. In 2001 during the UN World Conference Against Racism (UNWCAR), the Prime Minister of Nepal reportedly “announced the prohibition of any kind of social discrimination based on caste, making prohibition of entry into public places including places of worship or the practice of untouchability a crime punishable by law.”

As Rimal reports, reforms since 2001 have not nearly led to the full acceptance of the Dalit people, least of all Dalit women. With a literacy rate half that of their male counterparts, Dalit women are at a great disadvantage where education is concerned; Rimal explains that “among two million Dalit women there are only 15 today who have graduate or postgraduate degrees.”

 

At 13, Manisha BK, an "untouchable" person, stands out like a giant in her Grade 4 class.

At 13, Manisha BK, an "untouchable" person, stands out like a giant in her Grade 4 class.

Photo credit: Edwin Koo

 

A new Nepali constitution has contributed to modest gains for women, incorporating a 33 percent quota for women’s representation within parliament; 2008 saw the first victories for women under the new constitution, with 250 women being elected into parliament.

Women are learning to read and write. They are learning sexual and reproductive health. They are learning that they are not worthless and that they are human beings worthy of living.

Since 1996, Bishnu Maya Pariyar, a Dalit woman from Western Nepal, has been working to advance women’s rights and opportunities within the Dalit community. Pariyar has formed a microfinance initiative modeled after the Bangladeshi Grameen Bank, and has helped introduce more than 700 secondary school scholarships for Dalit women. Pariyar speaks of progress made:

“Women are learning to read and write. They are learning sexual and reproductive health. They are learning that they are not worthless and that they are human beings worthy of living.”

 

Vital Voices also blogs at Vital Voices Online