In the aftermath of a civil war caused primarily by social and economic inequality, Nepal’s 2015 constitution aims to strengthen democracy and promote gender equality and social inclusion (GESI). These GESI goals along with a substantial group of newly, locally elected, Dalit women together create the framework and inspiration for our work.
Why Dalit Women
In Nepal, Hindu tradition sustains an unconstitutional and illegal hierarchy that perpetuates untouchability that rob them of their basic dignity and rights. “Dalit” means “oppressed”– a term that refers to and was chosen by, those at the bottom of Nepal’s social and economic hierarchy.
Untouchability and the predominant cultural norms bar Dalits from equal access to education, jobs, medical treatment, housing, places of worship, justice and political participation. 13.6% of the population are Dalits, but they represent just 0.7 % of the civil service and hold only 6.6% of parliament seats. Only one judge is Dalit. Dalits fall at the bottom in Nepal’s human development index and are there joined by Janajati (indigenous peoples) and the Muslim community.
Dalit women live at the nexus of poverty, gender and caste and are suffering from additional forms of discrimination, injustice and violence because of ingrained, patriarchal structures.
The 2015 constitution includes provisions intended to mitigate the social exclusion and inequality of marginalized people, but it falls short of specifically targeting Dalit women. For example, article 86 requires representation by marginalized communities in the upper house–but not a single seat is reserved for Dalit women. Neither are there designated seats for Dalit women in relevant national commissions such as the Dalit Commission, the Women’s Commission and the Human Rights Commission.
Until Dalit women and other voiceless people are given not just a seat at the table, but possess the knowledge, skills and confidence to participate effectively in the process, government officials will continue to act with impunity and ignore the rights of marginalized people ensconced in the constitution. Without government accountability the dominant patriarchal order will continue to threaten peace and prosperity.
Our 3-pronged Model
1) Offering targeted training and resources for Dalit women activists and elected officials.
2) Nurturing the next wave of Dalit women national leaders at the grassroot level.
3) Broadening public support for Dalit women’s issues by building coalitions across caste, ethnicity and political parties.