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Nepal’s Dalit women face discrimination, violence and exclusion

15 March 2004

The practice of ‘untouchability’ remains widespread in Nepal despite constitutional guarantees banning discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sex, and penalties of up to one year in prison for those found to be practicing it. Dalit women face numerous forms of social and economic exclusion, and have been threatened with violence and social exclusion for wishing to marry higher caste men. Dalit women have been killed following accusations of witchcraft against them and sexual exploitation of some Dalit women by higher caste men continues.

These were some of the issues raised Binda Kumari Magar, representing the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) in Nepal, in an intervention to the UN Working Group on Minorities. She stated that: ‘Nepal is well known for its Himalayas, Buddha’s birthplace, and as a country of peace and compassion. But now the same country is known for violent conflict, violence against women and trafficking in women and children’.

A Nepalese government delegation was also questioned on its rights record by members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), gathered to exam the Himalayan state’s sixteenth periodic report on 4th and 5th March. In a lunch-time briefing to Committee members, a delegation of Nepalese NGO representatives, which had presented a ‘shadow’ report to the Committee, further highlighted the situation of Dalit women amongst a number of discrimination issues which they wished to be addressed. Committee members and the Nepal Country Rapporteur welcomed a positive response from the state delegation although NGOs commented that they hoped to see a greater effort to engage and consult with them on the issues.

The FWLD welcomed government efforts for women’s empowerment taking place through structural reforms in civil services and the establishment of a National Women’s Commission and National Dalit Commission, and highlighted the leading role of civil society organizations in women’s rights movements. However, they claim that despite these positive initiatives no significance change in Dalit women’s lives has been realized and that much remains to be done to implement and enforce anti-discrimination policy.

According to statistics quoted by the FWLD, Dalit women constitute some 16 percent of Nepalese women. The life expectancy of Dalit women is only 42 years, compared with a national average of 59.8 years, and literacy levels are far below the national average at only 9 percent compared with a national average of 42 percent.

The FWLD made a number of recommendations to the UN Working Group on Minorities and to CERD in order to combat discrimination and strengthen the position of Dalit women. These include the need to redefine domestic anti-discrimination legislation to conform to international standards, ensuring the autonomy of state anti-discrimination bodies, recognizing inter-caste marriages, and putting in place effective measures to counter continuing discrimination in all walks of life.

Notes for editors

Download the full intervention delivered to the UN Working Group on Minorities.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].