What motivated you to get enter the field of women’s rights?
As a woman, working for women’s rights has always interested me. Both of my parents are lawyers and involved with nonprofits so we always end up talk about human rights issues at family gatherings. There was never a specific incident, but just hearing about gender based violence in the news everyday and living in a patriarchal society was enough to make me decide to work on women’s rights in Nepal.
While I was studying law, I filed a writ petition to the Supreme Court in 2006 against the traditional practice of kamalari (a form of modern-day slavery where girls become indentured domestic servants). Because of the ruling, there is more awareness, but the practice of kamalari is still happening illegally all the time rather than the previous assigned ‘auspicious’ day. Poverty is the driving practice of kamalari. Now there’s even a government fund for the rehabilitation of rescued kamalaris, but it’s not being implemented. Politics affects everything – the Trust Committee heading up the implementation of the law was never formed within the prescribed time frame, so the fund was frozen.
While I was recently interviewing freed kamalaris in the Terai, one of them told me, “sometimes I’m happy to be a kamalari since my parents can’t fund my education, and my landlord’s ability to take care of me economically is higher than my parents’ ability.” But she’s one of the lucky ones; there are also many horror stories of sexual abuse and trafficking of kalamaris.
Who are your role models?
My family, and specifically my parents inspired me initially, Hillary Clinton as well. For young women in Nepal, Sapana Pradhan Malla is an excellent role model, I’ve been working closely with her in the past four months and I’m amazed by her work.
Can you talk a bit more about your position as Gender Based Violence Policy Officer in the office of the Prime Minister?
After then-prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal declared 2010 as the year to end Violence Against Women and created the National Action Plan on Gender Equality, he established a Gender Based Violence Unit to handle complaints created out of the action plan. I work as the GBV Unit’s legal council, working within their legal mandate to coordinate with local stakeholders and ensure that laws are properly implemented by working with any complaints forwarded to us by local police stations, called into our
hotline, or found in newspapers. We also monitor all the districts of Nepal and visit women cells etc.
What are the biggest challenges to ending GBV in Nepal?
The biggest challenge is a lack of access to GBV laws. Even government stakeholders, Women Development Officers and Local Development Officers aren’t aware of the laws. There is also a lack of willingness and gender-responsive thinking and beliefs.
With the 33% female representation in the Constituent Assembly (a quota mandated by the Interim Constitution), there are some women advocating for their rights within the Constitution Assembly. However, we need women working as independent activists and lobbyists so they don’t get sucked into party politics and have to follow party lines. Independents are essential for progress. Although the quota is a step in the right direction, I still feel like quantity isn’t enough – we need quality – but still it’s better than before.
What do you think the situation for women in Nepal will be in 5-10 years?
I think it will get better: Within the past five years, the National Action Plan has mandated us to create a gender-tolerant environment; the Ministry of Local Development has supported our awareness programs and 19.5% of the government budget is gender-responsive budgeting (following the directives of UNSCR 1325). Just two weeks ago, the Finance Secretary responded positively to proposed budgets from the Ministry of Women, Ministry of Finance, and accounting sections of each of the ministries, which are all 50% gender-sensitive.
What are some of the obstacles to leadership that are unique to women in Nepal?
A huge obstacle is the lack of gender sensitivity, especially at grassroots level. For example, chaupadi (the practice of treating menstruating women as untouchables) is becoming even worse – girls are dying from exposure because of this practice. Nothing is changing. We see even more cases than before, although maybe it’s not because it’s getting worse, but because there’s higher rates of reporting since more conversations are happening.
The most important thing is to change people’s mindset: to break out of the inherited patriarchal attitudes through education. We need to include moral science, values and human rights into the national curriculum because students can influence their homes and communities and be the critical mass that provides the tipping point.
What needs to change to increase interest and participation in politics from this
generation of young women?
Education again, and more international female role models in biographies and history. It’s so funny, in our school curriculum, we only have a very detailed history on monarchy in Nepal but we need more examples of role models in the curriculum. We need more awareness of international politics and events.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders in Nepal?
Start thinking critically. You have to have critical assessment first, otherwise you won’t get anywhere. Try to be both a follower and a doer. Take good practices and do it yourself – use your brains to follow good practices.