Nepal - The country that didn't like women
The country that didn't like women
In the former himalayan kingdom of Nepal, women have become the primary victims of the poverty and violence that have followed the civil war. Suicide is today the leading cause of death among young Nepalese females.
April 2006 marked a watershed in Nepalese history. After ten years of civil war, maoist rebels defeated a monarchy that had ruled for two hundred years. With a peace agreement and a new coalition government, the country could hope once again for a better future.
Alas, seven years later, Nepal---especially its capital Kathmandu---is living through a nightmare. Successive governments have failed completely to establish a stable economy. Without natural resources or a modern manufacturing sector of its own, and confronted by a worldwide increase in the price of imported raw materials, Nepal barely survives on money provided by its diaspora and international help. Corruption is pervasive while the government does nothing. The entire country is in limbo while everyone waits for the long-awaited new elections. The story is the same for the framing of a new Constitution.
Living conditions continue to deteriorate, especially for the villagers. Having lost hope of ever seeing their fate improve, they have begun a huge exodus---not only to Kathmandu, but also to India and to the Gulf States. This exodus is accelerated by intermittent famine that strikes rural areas more and more often in an era of global warming. On the outskirts of Kathmandu, shantytowns have been built by thousands of poor families struggling to survive.
These disruptions have aggravated the already dismal plight of girls and women.
Domestic violence, aggravated in a setting of poverty and male unemployment, has increased tremendously. Prostitution is now a national issue. Left to fend for themselves in villages deserted by men, and confronted by increasing poverty, women have become « the prey of choice ». Long the objects of trafficking for Indian brothels, young Nepalese women by the thousands are now becoming available for local « consumption. » Non-governmental organizations fear that Nepal may become the next destination for sex tourism.
Other trends reinforce the sad picture. For example, a perverse use of modern technology for echography has been the selective abortion of female fœtuses. And perhaps one fact is the best summary : since 2010, suicide has become the leading cause of death among Nepalese women aged 15-49.
Confronted by so many urgent problems, the government and the civil society, local and foreign social workers, with the help of a handful of princesses from the former royal family, have started to fight back. Programs of all sorts have sprung up : literacy classes for mothers, medical care, shelters for beaten or trafficked women, emergency food distribution in famine-stricken areas, economic-integration credits for female villagers---the list is long but the success variable.
Recently, the government has acknowledged the serious situation by its experiments with special female police brigades. But the spiral of violence continues---by men against women and by women against themselves---and for now it is hard to see when and how it will end.