Expat Magazine

Women Run Nepal But Men Rule It

By Hanna

“Women have a hard time of it in Nepal. Female mortality rates are higher than men’s, literacy rates are lower and women generally work harder and longer than men, for less reward. Women only truly gain status in traditional society when they bear their husband a son. Bearing children is so important that a man can legally take a second wife if the first has not had a child after 10 years.

Nepal has a strongly patriarchal society…Boys are strongly favoured over girls, who are often the last to eat and the first to be pulled from school during financial difficulties. Nepal has a national literacy rate of 49%, with the rate among women at 35%.

The traditional practice of sati, where a woman was expected to throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, was outlawd in the 1920’s. Nepal legalised abortion in 2002. In 2005 landmark rulings gave women under the age of 35 the right, for the first time, to apply for a passport without their husband’s or parent’s permission, and safe-guarded their right to inherited property. The rural custom of exiling women to cowsheds for four days during their period was made illegal in 2005. “

- Lonely Planet Nepal

“Raising a girl is like watering your neighbour’s garden”

- Nepali Proverb

equal women

I had the opportunity to travel to a remote village in Nepal over the weekend with M, his parents, and other cousins, grandparent, uncles and aunts. There were many of us and that in itself was overwhelming enough. It was the first time I had properly been outside of Kathmandu Valley and we drove for hours. As the village was so rural there was no roads, let alone paths for us to travel on so we had to ditch the jeep and continue on foot. It took us nearly four hours to walk, climb and stumble all in the monsoon rain fall to get to the little mud houses we were staying in.

As my first experience of life outside the city I was surprised but enjoyed the rural and peaceful nature of the village life. That was the hard part I thought I was going to struggle with – the thin hay covering on the bed to sleep on, no washing facilities apart from a local spring and a village toilet – but I took to life in the village well and did not make a fuss. Instead, the hard part I struggled with was the women’s roles in the village. In Nepal, around 81% of Nepalis live in rural areas, this is something that is carefully concealed  by the tourist hubs of Kathmandu and Pokhara. By such a large portion of a country with one ideology about women it is hard to get anywhere.

On the way to the village we stopped for food where my FiL and uncles all drank beer. After such a long day of travelling, M, his younger cousin and myself wanted a small glass of beer with our rice to which M and his cousin were allowed and the men had told the waiter to take my glass away. I did not make a fuss and continued eating my rice with water instead – but little did I know this was just the beginning of what I would see. I had experienced some things like this before after visiting a friend’s dai elder brother and bhauju elder brother’s wife, where they first offered me a drink but then said they would have to ask M’s permission whether I was allowed to have any alcohol or not. Similarly, every single time we go to a restaurant or a shop, M is the one who is given the bill, the items, the one they expect to pay and it is so strange not to be acknowledged.

Whist we stayed in the village the men sat outside chatting and the women were the ones who did the work. I helped out in the ‘kitchen’ whilst M got to attend a meeting about the development of the village with his uncle and dad. It was so strange as I was separated from the men mostly and sat with my MiL and the aunt. So many people crowded around M, asking him about his Masters and his place at London School of Economics. In every photo, room was made for him to sit in the middle and fuss was always given. I started feeling a bit angry at his special treatment whilst I was just sat in the corner and no one wanted to know about my achievements.

Women Run Nepal But Men Rule It

But where are the men?

Here they are!

Oh, here they are!

Throughout the whole weekend, when there was alcohol, I was not allowed to drink. Also, if a man or an elder wanted to sit down then the women were the first ones to move out of their seat and make themselves busy, like it was shameful they were sat down anyway. When there were meals, the women would all stay in the kitchen and only come out to serve the men and give them seconds, after this was done only then did they eat and that was in the kitchen out of the way. I felt so uncomfortable watching this take place and at the end of our weekend I just sat and ate with the men anyway. Which in turn, made me feel even more uncomfortable that I was not doing what I ‘should‘ as a woman.

On the last night we had traveled to Pokhara where one of M’s cousins lives. M, his younger cousin and another two cousins who lived in the house in which we were staying were going to visit the cousin who lived round the corner. M told his parents and they were concerned that I was going and said that I had to stay at the other house with them and the rest of the uncles and aunts. I just felt so frustrated that I was being told who I could see when the guys were able to go off and see the other cousin. Luckily, after M argued with them they allowed me to go and meet her.

Over the duration of the weekend I slowly realised that it was not just a village attitude but the attitudes of M’s extended family. His aunt has to cover her head and bow to elders. Also, as the youngest daughter in law she was made to sleep on the floor for four days even though she was four months pregnant. Since arriving in Nepal as well I get constant requests to stop being so serious if I do not have a permanent smile on my face. But then after M’s cousin made me laugh so much after talking in English and making me feel so at ease, M became aware that I would be in trouble for laughing and making noise. As in Nepal they still like there women to be seen and not heard.

Even in the developed cities this is a woman's life as well as holding down a full time job

Even in the developed cities this is a woman’s life – as well as holding down a full time job

After we had arrived back home in Kathmandu it was after 11pm, I was so exhausted that I just got into bed and slept. But my SiL had to wait up for us to let us in the house and then she started cooking rice, daal and vegetables for all the guests to eat at midnight. Not to mention that she had to be up at 5am for her college. I was so shocked and angry. These are things that I am going to have to do when  M and I marry. But as far as I am concerned, how hard is it to eat a meal on the way back home to save anyone having to cook at such a ridiculous time.

Even as I walk around on my own in the day I am aware of men looking staring at me. It makes me increasingly uncomfortable, especially if they whistle or shout things after me. I feel so angry that Nepal treats it’s women so poorly. It makes me even angrier that I will come and stay here and lose my independence, freedom and rights of being a women. I tell M that I would love to swap lives with him for a day and experience his Nepal. Although it is not perfect being a woman in the UK but at least I feel, for most parts, like an equal.

Women in Nepal.

What do you think?

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