Nepal is a nation that has been making significant strides towards democracy and equality after a tumultuous past. However, institutionalised sexism is holding the nation back on all fronts. Gender discrimination has slowed the progress of modernisation, limiting the impact of foreign aid as the government attempts to transform Nepal into a nation that can compete with its neighbours and the rest of the world. Despite this, Nepal has slumped to 145th place in the Gender Inequality Index, down from 98th in 2013.

Despite making significant inroads in tackling the sexism prevalent throughout society, Nepal remains a nation limited by gender inequality, something that continues to claim lives across the country. Nepal looks set to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the UN by the end of 2015, including making significant strides in education which have enabled nearly all children to attend primary school. Yet some targets look set to be missed, most notably those related to maternal health care. Under 30 per cent of women give birth with a trained midwife in attendance – half the target of the MDGs. This number drops to 11 per cent among the poorest women, showing progress in Nepal has reached the richest first, while issues remain in tackling poverty in rural areas, which are often remote and with little infrastructure.

Despite continuing legal efforts to protect women from gender discrimination, the problem remains stubbornly prevalent in Nepalese society. Government efforts have seen success in some areas, with women now making up 30 per cent of the seats in Parliament. However, the poorest women have yet to see an impact from these reforms.

Domestic violence is still endemic in Nepal, and traditional practices such as Chhaupadi – where women are forced to live in sheds away from their communities during their period – still remain common occurrences, despite the often fatal consequences.

Progression in education also sees significant discrepancy between the sexes. Although inroads have been made in access to education, there remains a huge gap in higher education between genders. Less than 18 per cent of girls have any access to higher education compared to 40 per cent of boys. This not only illustrates the societal preference towards boys in Nepal, but low education rates among girls prevent the economy from progressing by relegating women to low-skill, low-pay jobs.

Much of Nepal’s issues regarding gender inequality stem from other deep-rooted social issues such as the distribution of wealth among ethnicities and castes. The government has failed to tackle these issues effectively, resulting in uneven progress in education, healthcare and poverty reduction. Consequently, women in lower castes see the least benefit from government efforts, despite being the most in need of help. Low caste women in Nepal remain extremely vulnerable to violence and poverty. As yet they still lack the support they need to improve their lives and those of their families.

It is clear that the government in Nepal have made huge strides in improving the lives of women, however, legislation is not enough. Nepal still remains lower than Congo on the Gender Inequality Index.  More focus is needed on educating the population about the value of women, particularly regarding education and reproductive rights. Now that the government has successfully introduced legal protection for women, it is essential that they focus on educating the public in order to bring the rest of society up to speed with the aims of the government. If they can achieve this, Nepal can finally become the success story it aims to be.

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