Notes from the Field

From Nepal: Action on Gender Equality

March 7, 2007

Mohna Ansari, Nepal’s only female Muslim attorney, grew up in one of the poorest areas of the country in a minority Muslim community. Surrounded by a traditional culture where women rarely pursue higher education, Mohna was inspired by a high school legal rights education program to propel herself into college. She not only became the first person in her family to graduate from college, but the first Muslim woman to become an attorney in Nepal. Even during the Maoist conflict, her days were spent advocating for the rights of Nepali women and making them aware that they were entitled to the same rights as men under the country’s constitution. Now there is an opportunity for a new constitution, and a more inclusive, representative, and accountable system of government in Nepal.

In April 2006,Nepal’s Parliament was reinstated, and in November the government and Maoists signed a peace agreement that ended a decade of war. This new political landscape has yielded chances for reconciliation and the inclusion of historically marginalized groups, including women, in rebuilding a more responsive and accountable Nepali state. Critical to sustaining the peace process inNepal is the drafting of a new constitution by an elected constituent assembly.

A recent survey funded by The Asia Foundation found that only 25% of Nepali citizens have an accurate understanding of the constituent assembly and their role in forming a new constitution. Before participating in any constituent assembly process, Nepali citizens must understand the principles and processes of democracy, such as public participation in political debate and holding elected representatives accountable to the people for their actions. Nepali women must be equal partners in this process, no matter their ethnicity, language, culture, or political background.

Legislation to improve gender equality, including property rights, is just one of the recent steps made to end widespread discrimination. Mohna is one person who is turning this legislation into concrete action. She recently won a groundbreaking court case in which a woman was able to claim her rightful share, which was half, of her husband’s property under the terms of the divorce.

On International Women’s Day, we salute Mohna Ansari and the other trailblazing women of Nepal who are embracing this new opportunity to not only advance women’s rights in Nepal, but ensure that all Nepali women are aware of them.

View all posts by Nick Langton

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