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Kamala Sarup: Chaos facing Nepali Women

Chaos facing Nepali Women

By Kamala Sarup

Rama KC had thought that some kind of a way out will be found out and the violence would not return.

She says, "My father was killed by the Maoists some 2 years ago. I cannot go to my village because traveling and communication is also more difficult as the infrastructure, schools, health centers and minor irrigation projects, suspension bridges have been destroyed by the Maoist".

The Maoists have murdered hundred of people and destroyed the physical infrastructure in many places despite the public statement issued by chairman of the Maoists Prachand stating that the killing of individual and destruction of public property would not be carried out.

She further says, " Murdering sisters and brothers in the country doesn't bring peace and prosperity". She is not alone to wish for peace.

"I had wished for peace when my husband left me home to resume his duty three days before he was killed at Dang Ghorahi and I still wish for peace, as my brother-in-laws too are soldiers and I don't want any Nepali woman to face my fate. I will never forget his simplicity. I cannot believe myself that he is no more now" says Jamuna, a 16-year-old who lost her husband in Maoists war in Nepal.

The overwhelming majority of women victimized by Maoists are hovering between life and death, due to lack of timely financial support. Though the government has spent RS 12 million for compensating these women and families of armymen, it has done nothing of the sort for the kin of other victims.

Januka Shrestha's husband, who was in the army, was killed in action in Acham. With no other source of income, she is solely dependent on the pension she receives from the army for the survival of herself and her four children. "My youngest daughter has not been able to understand that her father is dead. She is still holding on to the promise that he had made: to come back and buy us a radio," said teary-eyed Shrestha.

Forceful recruitment of young women in the Maoist force is another serious issue in Nepal. Many young women have been displaced from their homes and forced to stay away because of this threat to them in their villages. Killing of male members of the family by both parties (the Maoist and the police) is another way Nepalese women are being victimized. Nepalese women have suffered the loss of family and homes, and they have faced extreme poverty. The majority of internal refugees are women and children.

Women comprise at least 50 percent and more than 95 percent of Nepali women are effected by Maoists war. Since 1996, the Maoist war has cost over 10,500 lives and has brought the country's fragile economy into deep trouble.

"Women living in poverty, particularly rural women, also suffer because of the use of arms that are particularly injurious or have indiscriminate effects. With increased insecurity and fear of attack often cause women to flee". Peace activist Amrit Pandey says.

There are no precise estimates, official or non-official, of the number of women widowed or children orphaned. It is the women of Nepal who have felt the impact most severely. Yet not much is being written about their response to the conflict.

The chaos facing Nepali women, especially outside Kathmandu, continue to face serious threats to their physical safety, denying them the opportunity to exercise their basic human rights. Women are increasingly veiling themselves and remaining indoors.

Local NGO's activist Sharmila says "Maoists are targeting women, especially in rural areas, making it impossible for them to go to work. In many places, human rights abuses are driving many Nepali families to keep their girls out of school".

She further argued "The fact is that most girls in Nepal are still not in school. Women and girls are abducted outside of their homes. Nepali women are the majority of the poor who stand to lose access to critical social services in a free-market Nepal. It is true, since the Maoists started their war, women in rural areas have been among the targets. Most casualties are no longer among soldiers, but women".

Since conflic started, rape and kidnapping have increased, while killings continue to occur. Prostitution increased. Kidnap and torture still take place.

Anju Mathema, student from Kathmandu says " Nepalese women believe, if they are given an opportunity to make their voice heard, if they can bring their own perspective to the table, the chances for lasting peace and reconciliation will improve immeasurably".

She further says "Violence, political intimidation, and attacks on women are discouraging political participation and endangering gains made on women's rights in Nepal over the last year".

"The present political crisis has brought Nepal's economy to a very low point and this may be an opportunity for women. When those in power realize that women are a valuable economic resource which can help rebuild the country, jobs and business opportunities will improve." Speaking to this sribe at New Jersey Board of Directors of YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity, and Chair of International Committee Mary C. Carrol says.

Mary further says ""While women's programs, and all other programs for that matter, must retain their focus and resolve, it has got to be both discouraging and extremely difficult under the present circumstances. I have had no experience in carrying out programs in the midst of conflict and danger. I suspect there are many Nepali women, wiser than I, who are heroically implementing programs and succeeding in spite of the turmoil".

Local women activist from Patan, Nepal, Rita Manandhar said "Maintenance of national security and peace is an important factor for economic growth and development and the empowerment of women. We should not forget during times of armed conflict, the role of women is crucial. Women make an important but often unrecognized contribution as peace educators both in their families and in their societies.

In addressing arm conflict, an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes should be promoted so that before decisions are taken an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively".

In Nepal massive violation of human rights is still going on. Nepali women are starving, they are beaten and tortured. The neglect of women's potential and their relegation as second-class citizens is a major constraint to Nepal's development as well as to achieving peace.

It is true, since the Maoists started their war, women in rural areas have been among the targets. Most casualties are no longer among soldiers, but women. The threats to women's human security, are getting worse. These dangers are continually present and increasing in the lives of women.

Even in Kathmandu, however, many Nepali women outside Kathmandu, Biratnagar, Pokhara the situation is one of acute general lawlessness and insecurity, as there is no control security conditions. In these areas, more than in Kathmandu, Nepali women continue to face serious threats to their life.

Women's unemployment rate is even higher. Crime, economic uncertainty are curtailing freedom for especially young women.

Nepali origin from US, Rupika is currently in the US for an peace advocacy program stated "To date Nepali women's views on the conflict and their solutions to it have not been heard nor have women been involved in initiatives to bring the sides together. We should Include Nepali women on both government as well as Maoist's negotiating teams and we should build women's leadership from the grassroots to the national level. We should increase women's participation in politics and at the decision-making level.

She further says " In Nepal of continuing instability and violence, the implementation of cooperative approaches to peace and security is urgently needed. The equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for the prevention and resolution of conflicts are essential for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security".

"Women's security entails an understanding that threats to women's physical emotional and material well-being are threats to society as a whole". local bussiness woman Suchitra says.

In order to protect women in situations of violent conflict, the human security should be placed formally on the agenda of security organizations. The impunity of perpetrators of women rights abuses must be ended. This will require community strategies and humanitarian assistance. Personal security and freedom from violence are basic human rights, without which women cannot hope to participate in building democracy, or peace.

Staff Nurse Sunita Sharma from local NGO in Nepal says "one of the looming threats to women security in Nepali societies is HIV/AIDS. There is gender inequity women are less able to protect themselves from HIV or from the sexual violence that may expose them to HIV. The various ways in which women's health is compromised within conflict societies who traditionally have been denied any political influence over national security issues. Moreover the targeting of women in counter-insurgency is a designed task of war to destroy women's life".

Political disorder forced numbers of women migrating from rural to urban areas. Lack of human security of women in situations of armed conflict, a wide range of old and new threats can be considered challenges to women's security. Nepal can never be at peace unless women have security in their daily lives.

"Nepalese women must have a right to be involved in all peace processes because displaced women are the real problem in Nepal. If Nepalese women are to play an equal part in security and maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically and economically". Puja Budhathoki says.

"We are aware of the daily experiences of women in danger in Nepal. Since conflic started, rape and kidnapping have increased, while killings continue to occur. Many Nepali women are frightened to leave their homes because they still face constant threats to their personal security from armed groups. Prostitution increased. Kidnap and torture still take place.

Prolonged conflicts also affect rural areas; crops are destroyed, crippling productivity in subsistence farming and agriculture and leading to chronic food shortages". Feminist activist Sunita Thapa made the above comments. She said the current system for monitoring and reporting on women's security in armed conflict is ''woefully inadequate''. ''The time has come for follow-up action,'' Sunita added.

She further said "Women's security connects different types of freedoms. Women and Human Security challenges us to raise difficult questions and find real answers.

The Government needs to carry out the success of the landmines initiatives through to other, more comprehensive arms control initiatives. If citizens disarm, the government must provide for their safety. Government also has a responsibility to help firearms victims through health care, legal assistance, and counselling". She said.

We must do more than theorize about the Women's security: we must be able to recognize and identify situations that support it. The number of conflict-related deaths is only a small indication of the tremendous amount of suffering but assaults on the fundamental right to life are widespread, indiscriminate attacks on women and civilians.

Torture is common in conflicts, as are measures restricting women's freedom of movement forcible relocations, mass expulsions, denial of the right to return to one's home.

Puja says " Armed conflicts clearly illustrate the indivisibility and interdependence of all women's rights. The collapse of infrastructure and civic institutions undermines the range of women, economic, political and social rights.

Changes in political, economic and social systems are necessary is often neglected. Because of gender discrimination, the needs of women themselves have been the first to be sacrificed during these difficult times. Women have been excluded from political decision-making, jeopardizing their rights for the future".

Nepalese women should be nominated to village councils, municipalities, district councils, district development committees, sub-committees of local government, and a mandatory provision for inclusion of women to various committees. She argued.

The intimate relationship between social justice, material well-being and peace must also be taken into account, if action is to be pursued far enough to prevent conflicts from escalating.


(Writer cum Journalist Kamala Sarup was born in Dharan, Nepal)

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