Nepal on the path to Gender Equality and Social Inclusion

                 – Nirvika Prakash –

Policy advancements regarding Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI), within the corporate sector of Nepal have been shaped by various international human rights agreements. Nepal’s commitment to these agreements is evident through its participation in 23 human rights treaties, which have greatly influenced its legislative framework, particularly in supporting GESI. Key instruments include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. Notably, Nepal made history in Asia by establishing a National Action Plan (NAP) on women, peace, and security in 2011, demonstrating its proactive stance on GESI issues (Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare [MOWCSW] & UN Women, 2017), especially in humanitarian action and disaster risk reduction.

Despite these international commitments, Nepal’s legal framework, constitution, and civil code have historically contained discriminatory provisions based on gender, caste, ethnicity, and religion, including formalised caste systems. While some amendments were made in 1963 and 1990 to address these disparities, discriminatory clauses persisted, particularly concerning citizenship, inheritance, ownership, marriage and family laws, employment, and education. However, recent years have witnessed significant changes, reflecting shifts in the political landscape and extensive policy dialogues among the government, civil society organisations, and development partners, as highlighted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2010.

The Government of Nepal (2007; as referenced in ADB, 2010) incorporates measures supporting gender equality and social inclusion, alongside enshrining rights to equality and protection against untouchability, racial discrimination, and forced labour, as articulated in Article 13. This provision emphasises the implementation of measures for the protection, empowerment, and advancement of women, Dalits, indigenous nationalities, and Madhesis. Notably, in 2007, the government undertook several policy initiatives aimed at enhancing the representation of women and marginalised groups in political institutions and the civil service. The Constituent Assembly Member Election Act, for instance, reserves seats for women, Dalits, ethnic groups, Madhesis, and the differently-abled, among others, within the proportional electoral system. Similarly, amendments to the Civil Service Act in 2007 allocate 45% of vacant positions for excluded groups, with specific proportions designated for women, ethnic groups, Madhesis, Dalits, the differently-abled, and backward regions, aiming to enhance the effectiveness and responsiveness of civil service (ADB, 2010).

Likewise, the Government of Nepal (2007–2010; as cited in ADB, 2015) emphasised social inclusion and inclusive development in its approved policies during this period. It articulated a long-term vision aligned with the broader national objective of achieving social inclusion and gender mainstreaming by fostering increased participation across class, caste, and gender lines in the development, promotion, and utilisation of alternative energy sources. This vision is underscored by the commitment to ensuring 33% representation of women, proportional representation of Janajati, Dalit, Madhesi, and Muslim populations in the Constituent Assembly/Parliament, and bolstered involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Similarly, the Government of Nepal (2010-2013; as referenced in ADB, 2015) stressed the importance of addressing disparities based on caste, ethnicity, gender, and region for fostering peace. However, the specific strategies for promoting inclusion were not outlined in its objectives, policies, and programmes.

Furthermore, the Government of Nepal (2013/2014-2015/2016; as cited in ADB, 2015) concentrated on initiatives aimed at economic and social transformation, including the implementation of necessary regulations and laws. It highlighted the importance of identifying essential activities and ensuring the participation of gender and socially excluded groups in various government systems. The document emphasised securing and safeguarding their rights and explicitly mentioned achieving 33% representation in governance and allocating 25% of the budget for gender-responsive initiatives.

Several constitutional and legal provisions in Nepal inherently prioritise Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI). For instance, the 2015 constitution mandates gender equality, proportional inclusion, participation, and social justice. Building on this, the approach paper for the 14th Three-Year Development Plan (2016/17–2018/19) aims to tackle structural economic issues like unequal access to resources to ensure sustainable development and equitable prosperity.

The government has put into effect several laws, such as the Gender Equality Law (Act to Amend Some Nepal Acts for Maintaining Gender Equality, 2006), and the Good Governance Act, 2008. It has also made amendments to the Civil Service Act, 1993, aiming to prevent discrimination, ensure fairness, and promote inclusivity while upholding human rights and encouraging local involvement in development. Moreover, the government has formulated Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) guidelines for specific sectors, including the nationwide local governance and community development programme. It has prepared the National Plan of Action for curbing gender-based violence and advancing gender empowerment since 2012. Additionally, it has introduced Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB), mandated women’s participation in planning and executing local development activities, and conducted GESI analyses and audits of various ministries’ programmes (NPC, 2016).

Until recently, GESI policies and guidelines have been issued and put into practice by seven major sectoral ministries in Nepal, including Agriculture, Education, Federal Affairs and Local Development, Forest, Health, Sanitation, Urban Development, and Water Supply. Many of these ministries have established dedicated units with structured systems and trained personnel to monitor outcomes. These sectoral GESI strategies and guidelines primarily aim to involve Dalits, Madhesis, Adibasis/Janajatis, women, and individuals with disability in formulating, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating sectoral policies, plans, and programmes (IDPG, 2017).

These mechanisms aim to promote gender equality and social inclusion by forming coordination committees dedicated to empowering minorities and excluded groups at all three levels. Besides addressing the needs of these excluded groups, efforts are made to safeguard the rights of senior citizens, labourers, peasants, and individuals with disability. Additionally, offices focused on uplifting minorities and raising public awareness have been established in collaboration with District Development Committees and Village Development Committees.

In addition to these institutional mechanisms, Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB) has been introduced by the Government of Nepal since fiscal year 2007/2008. The primary objective is to ensure that government attention and accountability are directed towards promoting GESI and improving the conditions of gender equality and social inclusion in the country. Furthermore, progress in this area is monitored as part of the regular annual budgeting process. Projects are evaluated for their gender responsiveness based on five criteria: women’s participation in decision-making roles and programme planning, their capacity building, benefit sharing by women, increased access to employment and income-earning opportunities for women, and reduction in women’s workload.

In conclusion, Nepal’s journey towards achieving Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) within the corporate sector reflects a dynamic interplay between international commitments, domestic policy reforms, and institutional frameworks. While rooted in its participation in numerous human rights treaties, Nepal’s progress in advancing GESI has been propelled by legislative amendments, policy initiatives, and collaborative efforts among governmental bodies, civil society organisations, and development partners.

Despite historical discriminatory provisions within Nepal’s legal framework, recent years have witnessed significant strides towards addressing systemic inequalities, driven by political shifts and comprehensive policy dialogues. The Government of Nepal has proactively implemented measures to promote gender equality and social inclusion, as evidenced by initiatives such as the National Action Plan on women, peace, and security and constitutional mandates for representation and participation of marginalised groups.

Furthermore, the introduction of Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB) and the establishment of institutional mechanisms at various administrative levels underscore Nepal’s commitment to mainstreaming GESI considerations across sectors and fostering inclusive development. These efforts reflect a holistic approach towards creating an enabling environment for marginalised communities, women, and youths to participate meaningfully in decision-making processes, and benefit equitably from socio-economic opportunities.

Moving forward, sustained commitment to implementing and monitoring these policies, coupled with targeted interventions to address remaining gaps and challenges, will be crucial in realising Nepal’s vision of an inclusive and equitable society. By harnessing the synergies between international commitments, domestic policy reforms, and grassroots initiatives, Nepal can continue its trajectory towards achieving Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) within the corporate sector, contributing to sustainable development and shared prosperity for all.

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