DFID's bilateral programme in Nepal - International Development Contents

8  Women and Girls

100. Women in Nepal are disadvantaged. Only 6% are in formal employment and only 10% of working women receive payment for their work. Female-headed households are amongst the poorest. Nepal ranks 98th of 152 ranked countries in UNDP's Gender Inequality Index for 2013. This is a higher position than most of the countries where DFID has a bilateral programme and higher than neighbouring India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.[96] Nevertheless, gender-based violence is widespread, deep rooted, and hidden, with estimates that over two thirds of women experience gender-based violence in their lifetimes.[97]

101. DFID says that it is working with government, the World Bank, UN agencies, other bilateral agencies, and broader civil society to make key institutions more equitable and inclusive.[98] The Minister of State told us that each of DFID's programmes must now address gender issues and 'mainstream' gender issues into everything it does.[99] In addition, DFID is currently focusing on three key areas in order to tackle gender inequality and violence against women and girls (VAWG):

·  Increased economic empowerment for women and girls: through a focus on the creation of more and better jobs for women, particularly those from excluded groups. DFID claims to have provided employment to women through its Rural Access Programme (and the Employment Fund), Community Support Program, Local Governance and Community Development Program, Integrated Women's Development Program and has sought to link economic participation with awareness-raising on issues of gender inequality.

·  Sustain progress on maternal mortality: through free maternal services for poor and disadvantaged women; sustaining reductions in maternal mortality; and addressing social and economic disparities within women and girls' access to services. In addition, through its health sector program, DFID aims to reach poor and excluded women living in remote areas with reproductive and family planning services.

·  Tackling VAWG: through supporting a nation-wide programme to reduce gender based violence working with the Government and UNICEF; supporting a wide range of prevention awareness activities and referral services through civil society organisations; capacity building of health service providers; and supporting Women and Police Service Centres. DFID also has a new Justice for Poor' program which focuses on police modernisation, justice sector reform and reduction of VAWG.[100]

102. In addition, DFID has recently approved a '£36 million programme to accelerate action to End Child Marriage in 12 priority countries [including Nepal]. This programme will address child marriage through: strengthening frameworks, laws and policies, scaling up access to health and education for girls at risk of CEFM, supporting civil society activists and investing in research to shift harmful social norms'.[101]

103. DFID (and the FCO) have also worked with the Government of Nepal to agree a new programme to improve security and justice to poor and vulnerable people in Nepal, with special attention to women and girls. By December 2018 DFID plans indicate that 1.5 million poor people will have improved security and access to justice including at least 900,000 women and girls. This programme focuses on the prevention of VAWG through improved prevention, reporting, and response.[102]

104. According to Development Initiatives, the UK was the largest donor to gender equality in Nepal during 2011-2013. Using the OECD DAC Gender Equality Marker, the UK has continued to be the largest donor to projects coded as making a 'principal' or 'significant' contribution to gender equality each year during 2011-2013. In addition, during 2011-2013, 84% of DFID's spending in Nepal was coded as making a 'principal' or 'significant' contribution to gender equality (US$292 million out of US$350 million).[103]


105. Nepal will be one of the countries in which DFID's new centrally managed programme to support global efforts to end child marriage will be operating.[104] In Nepal we were worried that that there did not seem to be much knowledge of, or discussion about effective projects in other countries; and we were concerned that such projects might not be fully taken into account of in planning the programmes in Nepal. The Minister of State told us:

    "My understanding is that [the child marriage] project is only just getting underway under the auspices of UNICEF and UNFPA. The learning mechanism has yet to be established, but we ourselves are building up what is […] called a community of practice to ensure that that project is informed by the best practice and experience from the rest of the world."[105]

106. Saul Walker added:

    "It is also worth noting that DFID's research team has a significant hub in South Asia—the South Asia Research Hub. It is including work specifically where there are areas where we need to know more—for example, around suicide and issues like that, which are at the extremis of the violence agenda. We are also very regionally linked to bring in our best research from within DFID's own research programmes as well."[106]

107. We recommend that in implementing its centrally-managed programme on early marriage in Nepal, DFID ensure that is well-integrated with its bilateral programmes and draws on DFID's experience, not only from South Asia and also from around the world.

Addressing social norms

108. We met many women and girls during our visit to Nepal and heard some truly harrowing recollections. We were repeatedly told that although responding effectively to instances of gender inequality by way of access to justice and security is essential, social norms are deeply rooted in Nepali society and can only be altered gradually, over generations. Women and girls told us that they believed the only way this can achieved is by educating young men so that their attitudes to women and girls in later life are conducive to an equal-gender society. Unfortunately, DFID was uncertain what work was currently undertaken in Nepal to address social norms in the education system.[107]


109. During our visit, DFID told us that the average family in Nepal contains 4.1 children without family planning, but two children with family planning. The UN's 2013 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Progress Report judges that fertility in Nepal has declined from 4.6 births in 2001 to 2.6 births in 2011: nearly half of women use a modern method of family planning.[108] As there is social pressure not to have more than two children, especially for financial reasons, family planning can be essential. However, since 2006 the use of family planning in Nepal has been stagnant and UN MDG 5b (Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health) risks being missed. DFID believes that this stagnation might be due to the large number of male migrants and that certain groups-youth, poor, Muslim and Terai Dalits-still have high fertility and low unmet need.[109] There may be a significant difference between the people of the hills and those in the terai closer to India.

110. The Minister of State agreed that this was an area for concern.[110] Mark Smith, Deputy Head of DFID Nepal, observed:

    We have a programme specifically on family planning, which is targeting areas of high fertility and low use of contraception and trying to look at innovative ways in which contraception use can be increased. That particularly focuses on the Dalit and Muslim communities, where birth rates are very high.[111] [...] traditional approaches will not work—so what we are doing, with USAID and the Government, is trying to pilot different approaches and build a body of evidence on what can work in this context. Once we have discovered more about that, we can look to scale up.[112]


111. During out visit UNICEF informed us that Nepal had one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world; on average, two out of five girls were married before their 18th birthday. In 2011, about 41% of women aged 20-24 had been married/in union before the age of 18. We were told that child marriage in Nepal was often also 'early and forced' marriage as the girls are rarely able to make a free and informed decision about their marriage partner. The Deputy Prime Minster of Nepal agreed that girls marrying too young was a serious problem.

112. We heard from both UNICEF and girls who have experienced child marriage that an element of coercion from family members was often involved. Strong social and cultural norms drive the practice, despite the fact that there is now legislation in place to prevent it. According to UNICEF, child marriage occurs more frequently among girls who are the least educated, poorest and living in rural areas. In 2011, women living in rural areas were about 1.6 times as likely to be marred/in union before age 18 than their urban counterparts. In relation to education, about 72% of women with no education were marred/in union at age 18 compared to only 23% of women with secondary of higher education.

113. There are a variety of causes early marriage. Only 5% of parents are aware of the legal age of marriage.[113] Many of the young girls we met in Nepal told us that the major cause of child marriage was dowry payments; the amount of the dowry increases the older a girl gets. This is the reason for the strong correlation between poverty and child marriage; the very poorest in Nepali society who can least afford a dowry have the greatest incentive to marry their daughters at the youngest possible age.

114. Various steps have been taken to tackle child marriage in Nepal. Nepal is one of the recipients of DFID's new centrally managed programme to support global efforts to end child marriage. The Nepali government participated in the 2014 Girl Summit in the UK and pledged to eliminate Child, Early and Forced Marriage by 2020.[114] DFID informed us that the practice would not be ended by legislation alone, but a 'multi-faceted, multi-sectoral and culturally appropriate national strategy' to end child marriage in Nepal was necessary and was currently being developed. All births and marriages should be registered.[115]

115. Working with communities will be vital in addressing child marriage. The Leprosy Mission Nepal told us that common issues should be tackled in a collective, joint manner in communities. It added that the capacities of communities needed to be built up via advocacy and groups should be better organised for them to acquire ownership.[116] The children we met with supported this approach, arguing that changing social attitudes was more important than increased engagement with the police; the police were reluctant to prevent child marriage if parents supported it, and would only act if the local community supported them to do so. Change seems to be happening; in Chapakot Village near Pokhara we met the Gender Based Violence Watch Group and Paralegal Committee, and it included almost one women from every household.


116. Abortion in Nepal, in particular as a result of gender preference, is a relatively new and worrying phenomenon which stems from the increased availability of pregnancy scans and greater affluence as a result of remittances from migrant workers. During our visit we heard that Nepali society had a deep-rooted preference for sons (perpetuated in part by the cost of dowry payments for girls) and that there is social and financial pressure to restrict families to two children (of which at least one must be a boy). We heard that often the in-laws of women and girls will fund the cost of pregnancy scans in order to ensure that their sons produce sons of their own. The pregnant women and girls often have very little say in this and their own wishes are often ignored. The women in community organisations also told us that their estimation was that in the Kaski District of Nepal 150 boys are born for every 100 girls born. We heard that husbands, often encouraged by their parents, will use threats of polygamy and violence to force wives to have abortions and try again for a son. We questioned the Minister of State on sex-selective abortion in Nepal and he told us:

    At the last census, which was 2011, there would appear not to be a concern—the statistics look normal in terms of male to female ratios—but clearly you have picked up on something that is not manufactured. I wonder the extent to which, perhaps in urban areas, a preference for boys is being masked by the rather greater population in the rural areas that maintain a normal balance. It is something we have got to be very much alive to and we may well need to address more actively. I wonder to what extent the programme that we have now initiated with respect to USAID and Nike for adolescent girls will address awareness on issues like this, but it is certainly something I would hope that we can do more on.[117]

117. The Minister could be correct that a preference for boys in rural areas is being masked by urban populations. Nevertheless, access to pregnancy scans has increased since 2011 so the results of this census may not be a true reflection of more recent male to female birth ratios. We heard from community groups in Nepal that abortions of girls are particularly common in women under 20.


118. Domestic and sexual violence are huge problems in Nepal. Gender-based violence is widespread, deep rooted, and hidden, with estimates that over two thirds of women experience gender-based violence in their lifetimes[118]. On our visit we heard that the majority of both men and women in Nepal still see domestic violence as acceptable, in particular (but not exclusively) in instances where women have committed 'acts of infidelity'. Nepal's tolerant attitude towards domestic violence reinforces the behaviour and allows it to pass between generations. To further complicate the issue, as the Minster of State points out, "[women] do not report [it] because of the shame of signalling it"[119]. The Gender Based Violence Watch Group and Paralegal Committee told us that considerable stigma was attached to reporting violence as it was seen as reflecting badly on the families involved.

119. Physical or mental violence towards women, as well as marital rape, are now punishable by law.[120] However, we heard from police officers at the Kaski Disrtict Women and Children Service Centre (which was built with DFID support) that domestic violence laws are difficult to apply and, as a result, they often find themselves using alternate laws or paths of action instead. Police officers told us that, due to a lack of resources and inadequate legislation, prosecution was unusual in cases of domestic violence and that more often men were temporarily held for 'counselling' and then released without charge.

120. We were also told that temporary accommodation was provided by NGOs for (a) women suffering from sexual violence, and (b) young girls, but that very few facilities existed to temporarily house women suffering from domestic violence. The police admitted that they received no women-specific training.

121. The Gender Based Violence Watch Group and Paralegal Committee told us that the introduction of community groups (which have been supported by DFID) had led to significantly more women coming forward to report domestic violence. The Committee has dealt with 85 individual cases in their village to date; a reporting rate which would be unheard of in most parts of Nepal. Community organisations provide communities with a platform to voice their discontent about domestic violence to the police, as they do about child marriage. Although huge strides can be made in reporting domestic violence in areas where community groups exist, these areas are rare.

122. While community groups have had an effect on domestic violence, they have had little impact on the reporting of sexual violence, in or out of marriage, which is still a taboo subject.

123. Another issue, which was highlighted by Anti-Slavery International, was the existence of 'Kamalari' contracts in Nepal, in which young girls are sold as domestic workers to wealthy Nepali families. Bonded women and girls in Kamalari contracts are often not permitted to work for anyone other than the employer to which they are indebted and violence or threats are regularly employed to coerce the women into remaining with their employer. These debts can be passed on from one generation to the next. Bonded labour persists due to widespread discrimination against particular social groups, which prevents them from accessing justice, education and other means to alleviate poverty.[121] According to Anti-Slavery International, although this practice is prohibited by Nepali law, it continues largely because many of the officials charged with implementing the law have Kamalari servants themselves.[122]


124. During our visit we were told that 16% of deaths of women aged 15-49 year old are as result of suicide, which is an increase of 6% since 1998. An unknown statistic was how much of this group were actually murders recorded as suicides; many of the communities we spoke to feared that this might often be the case. The DFID Minister of State shared the same concern and noted that, in addition, much of the suicide is by burning[123], which is obviously not a death commonly associated with suicide. We talked to one community near Pokhara who told us that women will marry young, leave home and move in with in-laws. Often these young wives were treated as little more than unpaid servants. Husbands move abroad in search of work and the young wives are left alone with their in-laws, who can often treat them as their property. We were told that that from the start of January to mid-February 2015, 12 women had already hung themselves in the Kaski Disrtict of Nepal alone.

125. In response to questions about suicide, the Minister of State told us:

    "[...] with respect to suicide, one of the very important things we are doing with the police is upping their game on the correct collection of statistics. [...] I acknowledge entirely the concern that you have raised."[124]

Conclusions and recommendations

126. While the situation of women in some countries in the region may be worse, Nepalese women face many problems and severe discrimination. We recommend that DFID address this issue by encouraging a change in social norms which currently discourage the use of contraception in some communities and encourage harmful practices, including child marriage and domestic violence. We also recommend that DFID encourages education of young girls and boys in schools to instil a greater sense of worth for women in general. We recommend that DFID continue to support community groups which can play a key role in changing social norms.

127. Great strides have been made in the provision and use of family planning, but certain groups such as Dalit and Muslim communities have high fertility rates and low use of contraception. We recommend that DFID looks at innovative ways in which contraception use can be increased. This is not just a matter of distributing contraceptives.

128. We recommend that in its Security and Justice programme, DFID ensures it places sufficient emphasis on engagement with community groups and the education system to change social norms and to encourage greater awareness of the legal age of marriage.

129. We are very concerned about selective abortion of female foetuses. We recommend that DFID carefully monitor male to female birth ratios for changes since the 2011 census.

130. We recommend that DFID encourage the Nepali police to introduce training for police officers in relation to women-specific issues, such as sexual violence, and to improve their mechanisms for collecting statistics of gender-based crime (both reported and prosecuted).

131. We are concerned that the high rate of suicide amongst women and girls and their mental health is not being addressed; we recommend that DFID review the issue and discuss with GoN how it best be tackled.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 27 March 2015