We all know that gender inequality exists around the world but many of you might not know about the situation for women in Nepal.
Right now, I don’t care about political correctness. The fact is, in Nepal, men are treated ‘higher’ than women. It’s a reality. Yes it’s their culture, but in my opinion, it’s wrong.
I haven’t gauged this view just by what I have heard from Rabindra, I have also spoken to many other Nepalese men and women and did some research on the topic.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about Nepalese society and women so far:
-Many people believe that if you don’t have a son, you will go to hell. As the majority of Nepalese people are devout Hindus, they do believe this and would rather risk dying from extreme poverty then not have a son. I saw a documentary where this poor village woman was giving birth to her fifth baby and was distraught when she saw it was a girl. The family barely had enough for one meal a day yet they were still trying for a son. Her husband living in India did not want to talk to her after the baby was born. It’s not uncommon for women to commit suicide because of the pressure they face to have a son from their husband and even their own families.
-When women are menstruating they are seen as ‘impure’. Recently I was talking to a girl at this Nepalese Dashain party (Nepal’s major festival, kind of like our Christmas). We were all receiving blessings and getting a red tikka mark on our forehead and she didn’t get hers. I asked why. She told me she had her period and couldn’t receive one. She was the only person without a tikka on her head at the party. She told me “this is one of the shit things about Nepalese culture”. She said there was no pressure from her husband or anyone at the party but she knew within herself that she shouldn’t accept it. The result was that the 15+ people at the party all knew she had her period. As an Australian girl, I couldn’t imagine this type of embarrassment.
-Women are also not allowed to cook or serve food and drinks when they have their period. Rabindra’s parents don’t follow this at all but he told me that older generations in his family are very strict about this.
-Women fast for the long-life of their husbands. At a number of major festivals such as Teej (Women’s Festival), the women fast (no drinks, water or food at all) and pray for 24 hours or more for the health and long-life of their husband. If you are an unmarried woman, you fast and pray in the hope that you will find a good husband! At the recent Teej festival, my friends were fasting for 24 hours and asked me if I would be as well. I decided to fast only for breakfast and lunch but drank water and had some dinner.
-Women don’t usually get land/property. In Australia when a family member dies it’s usually put in the Will that the remaining family shares out the assets including the home and property. In Nepal, it’s normally only ever given to the sons. Very rarely do women get any assets. This could be because nearly all women go and live with their husband’s family anyway after marriage.
-If a man goes into a bar he is seen as fun, sociable party guy. If a woman is seen in a bar they are accused of being a prostitute, a ‘bad girl’ whom a man would never marry.
-If a man has sex before marriage, amongst his mates he has seen as pretty awesome. Yet if a woman has sex before marriage, men think she will never get married and if her husband finds out she is not a virgin, he has to right to leave her.
It is fair to say that the uneducated people living in rural villages are the ones most likely to take these practices quite seriously however some of the ‘softer’ beliefs are also held by the modern, non-conservative families as well.
On the other hand to all of this, compared to some Muslim cultures, Nepalese women aren’t treated that badly after all. And at festivals and family occasions the girls/women are normally showered with more gifts and money than men. In some of Rabindra’s family, the women are treated like the head of the households (instead of the man) and the young girls in the extended family are the favourites.
I’m also not saying Nepalese men treat their wives badly. It’s just what they’ve grown up with. Also, violence against women is taken seriously. It’s just some aspects of the culture, as I have highlighted in this blog, that I don’t agree with.
One of the good things for me is that Rabindra believes many of these practices are outdated and outrageous. He never says I have to fast for his long life and he says if we only have girls and no sons, he will be just as happy. He certainly doesn’t tell me I can’t cook when I have my period. I think he would be lost if that happened! Jokes!
However it’s still played a part in our relationship in smaller ways. I’ve had to get used to the whole ‘boy’s club’ where men hang out regularly without their women (this is something I will post about later).
Also in Nepalese culture, women rarely drink. Being an Aussie who likes to drink alcohol (like 99% of the female population), this is one aspect I’ve had to adapt to in my relationship out of respect for his culture. Rabindra doesn’t think I should be out drinking in bars too late or coming home drunk but he has no problem with me drinking whilst hanging out with my friends. I can understand this from a western perspective as well and I respect this. I am also against him doing this too much as well. When I go to Nepal, I have to be very careful about the perception I give and I won’t be drinking in front of his family, that’s for sure!
The health of Nepalese women is another matter again. According to SIGI, Nepal is one of the few countries in the world in which the life expectancy of women is lower than that of men. Read more at http://genderindex.org/country/nepal
Although progress is being made to improve gender equality in Nepal, these patriarchal traditions are rooted deep in Nepalese history. Real change will only take place when the next generation coming through takes a stand against these serious forms of cultural prejudice.
What do you think? Do women in other Asian countries have to deal with similar cultural prejudice as Nepalese women? Please share…