Despite numerous efforts women still deprived of opportunities

Despite the efforts of the government and private sector to frame and execute gender sensitive policies, the progress towards gender equality is still moderate. Empowering women is necessary to make them able to utilise the rights enshrined in the Constitution as well as the provisions of the sectoral laws and policies, however, the effectiveness of the initiatives taken for their empowerment are often questioned as there is domination of males in the decision-making and execution level.

The census of 2021 shows population of females at 51.02%, however they are still deprived of equal opportunities. It is said that still 70% of the population is working in the informal sector including household works. Brining rural women in the national mainstream of development and making them able to harness opportunities is still a herculean task.

Gradually, political representation of women has taken a shape as the Constitution of Nepal in 2015 guaranteed the provision of 33% representation of women as compared to 5% in 1990.

It has been a long time since the government started framing a gender responsive budget to empower women to provide them entrepreneurial skills, help them to obtain ownership in property and decision-making, protect them from critical health related challenges and ensuring their equal participation in the opportunities.
“Empowering women financially is critical for their upliftment as that enables them to avail quality services and also enhances their access at the decision-making level,” said Bhawani Rana, Former President of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“In recent years, women’s participation in business has taken a significant leap as 29% enterprises are led by women. This may lead them not only towards economic upliftment but also strengthen their participation in decision-making,” she stated.

However, micro, small and medium enterprises led by women are facing manifold challenges including availing credit from formal financial markets with subsidies, lack of upscaling support, skill, technology and market opportunities, where government can provide handholding, according to Mona Shrestha Adhikari, Executive Director of EMERGE.

All three tiers of the government have framed various programmes to support women in embracing entrepreneurship and connecting them in the value chain for sustainability and upscaling their enterprises. However, those programmes are rarely implemented properly.

To enable women to become economically independent by embracing entrepreneurship, their access to information, skills, access to finance, technology, market access are essential, according to Darshana Shrestha, First Vice President of Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal (FWEAN).
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), member of the World Bank Group, in its recent study report highlighted some of the key challenges to mainstream women in business as well as in economic opportunities.

There are various constraints that continue to impede women’s entrance into this traditionally male-dominated sector, like gender stereotyping, lack of gender-sensitive policies and practices, according to the IFC. “Adopting targeted and tailored interventions to advance gender diversity and equality have demonstrated net positive impacts in terms of business growth, efficiency and sustainability around the world,” it mentions.

Similarly, at the corporate level, companies are recommended to adopt policies to improve gender equality and equal treatment for all staff, create more career development opportunities targeted at women, build awareness on gender bias and set targets for diversity in board representation and leadership, states the IFC report.

The gender responsive policies such as certain waiver in land revenue while registering property in the name of women has enhanced women’s ownership in property. Currently, 23% of the women have ownership on land.

Similarly, micro, small and medium enterprises are expected to bring a greater transformation in terms of women’s economic upliftment. However, the Covid-19 pandemic hit them hard, and a large number of such enterprises pulled down their shutters as the value chain system crippled severely.
Better late than never, women’s participation and representation in various sectors are in an upward trend. Political representation of women at the local level is the highest compared to other sectors. There are 41% women elected representatives in 753 local levels across the country.

In the federal parliament there are 91 and 21 female parliamentarians in the Lower House – House of Representatives and Upper House – National Assembly. Experts opine that women’s representation at the policy-making level should be able to intervene in national policies and laws to enhance women’s participation in every sector.

Women had a small presence of around 8% in public service before 2007 when the Civil Service Act, 1993 was amended. The amendment reserved 45% of the total open competition seats for excluded groups, including women. Women are entitled to compete for 33% seats of this segmented total. Examinations are held only among the members of the group in order to make the public service more inclusive and representative. After this affirmative action, there has been a steady rise of women in public service, from 11.09% in 2008/09 to 23.6% in 2017/18. While coming to 2023/24, women’s presence in the public services reached 26 per cent.

Likewise, there is encouraging presence of women in health sector due to increased number of nurses, lab technicians and in sanitation related works. In total, 37% of the workforce in the health sector is female.

Still women participation/presence in the security forces is low, merely 10% in the police and around 6% in Nepal Army, though they’ve allocated 20% quota for females.

Agriculture and household works are major sectors where largely women are engaged. However, the household works are not calculated in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Kalpana Khanal, Senior Research Fellow at the Policy Research Institute (PRI) opines that the GDP calculation method is somehow biased against women, who engage in household works 12 hours a day, however, their contribution does not reflect in the national economy.

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