NEPAL: Woes of Nepali Working Women

Friday, June 10, 2011
Southern Asia
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Even with regards to the capabilities of Nepali working women, many of them have apparently found that their capability is put into question simply because they're women.

“If you're a woman, and even if you're professionally capable, many assume you work in an incompetent manner or are too feeble for work,” says Kreepa Shrestha, proprietor of Supply Support, a company that deals in promotional goods.

According to the young entrepreneur, more than her clients, it's the third party who tries to pull her down and go as far and questioning her character.

“I leave my house at six in the morning, take classes till 8 o'clock, then go to work and work till 7 pm and sometimes even up to 10 at night,” she shares. “And people have the habit of forming bad opinions. It's not really a problem but an issue you have to deal with a lot.”

For Shrestha, though, except for her coworkers meddling in her personal affairs, she says she hasn't really faced any real problem that would affect her performance.
With Ranjana Koirala, a lower-secondary schoolteacher, the scenario changes with the change in profession.

“You're easily taken for granted just because you're a woman,” she shares and cites, “During lunchtime, we're asked to look after kids in the playground or check if they've had their lunch. The male teachers are never asked to do that.”

Koirala detests that even if male and female teachers have equal qualifications, the latter are more often asked to teach in the lower grades.

“The payroll fortunately is decided on the basis of the different levels set by the school, so there isn't any difference in salary for male and female teachers.”

However, according to the 2006 report, “Status of Female Teachers in Nepal” by Min Bahadur Bista, many female teachers were found to have temporary status despite several years of service in the same schools. In his report, he also states that being temporary meant “being insecure and excluded from getting financial and other benefits.”

Another major problem for most Nepali working women, Koirala mentions, is that most schools or offices don't consider paid sick leaves for women when they have painful periods.

“We're asked to work, and being absent on those days are taken as leave,” she says.

Then there are subtle harassments that are, however, considered normal.

“Many times, our male colleagues pass unnecessary comments on our clothes or personal life, which is disturbing,” says one working woman.

According to a research conducted by the Forum for Women, Law & Development (FWLD) in 2004, 48.4% of working women faced sexual harassment at their workplaces.

The same year, the Supreme Court heard a writ regarding sexual harassment. However, seven years down the line, there's still no separate laws that can protect women from sexual harassment at work or in public places.

“A Bill addressing sexual harassment has been drafted in the Parliament but it still hasn't been passed due to several reasons, like political turmoil, neglect from government, and then again, court procedures tend to take a lot of time,” says Meera Dhungana, an advocate at FWLD.

Dhungana also mentions that many working women are forced to give up their careers after childbirth.

“There are no provisions at Nepali workplaces for childcare facilities,” she says. “So, in the case of working couples in our society, it's always the wife who's forced to leave her job.”

Also, according to International Labour Organization (ILO), the standard maternity leave that a woman should get is 98 days. But Dhungana says that because there's no national law in Nepal regarding maternity leaves, many working women have to manage with 60 or even 40 days.

In these circumstances where the law doesn't guarantee any physical or economic security for Nepali working women, Dhungana says they still remain highly vulnerable.

Laxmi Basnet, working as a guard at the United World Trade Center in Tripureshwor, says that even though she works for a security agency, she has to worry about her own security when she's working late.

“Our uniform sometimes acts as a shield but there are always people who try to act smart, and we have to be careful all the time,” she says.

For Preeti Pun, a nurse at the Teaching Hospital, her work also requires her to work odd hours frequently, and safety is a priority for women who have to work late as they're more vulnerable to attacks, rape and robbery.

“Personally, I haven't had any misfortune yet, but yes, security is a big issue in our job,” she says.

Arati Chataut, Executive Producer at Nepal Television and a gender activist, agrees that women have to be extra careful.

“When you're in the media, you have to work late sometimes or also go out in the fields for days, You might be the only woman, and you naturally feel singled out,” she says. “You have to learn to deal with it.”

Even simple things like having separate proper toilets for women is another issue at many working places in Nepal, Chataut says. “Then there can be cases of sexual harassment. But as it's a sensitive issue, it doesn't come out much in the open.”

Moreover, as per her experience, people also try to easily intimidate women with disturbing calls and even threats, thinking they're too feeble or weak.
Another factor Chataut focuses on is the inequality in payment. Women like Basnet have had to struggle to get equal payment as their male counterparts. But she's still one of the few lucky ones.

“Before, we used to get Rs 4,000 whereas men got Rs 4,600 even though we worked the same hours. But after we raised the issue through our union, we now get equal salary,” Basnet says.

For Chataut, personally, she says unequal payment hasn't been an issue as payrolls at NTV or in the government sector are clearly decided as per the level of one's work experience.

However, she points that in many private sectors, and mainly in the labor sector, payrolls are decided as per individual contracts, and there are more chances for unequal payment.

In her thesis, “Comparative Study of Women in Media” for which she also studied the payroll of women in the Nepali and Indian media, she says her findings revealed that, overall, women comparatively earned less than their male counterparts.

“Moreover, I've found that women in junior positions have lesser control over their work and have to do as directed,” she says and adds, “The main thing is power relation. Unless more women are in leading positions, most of working women's issues will be neglected.”

The woes of the working women in Nepal are many. As they work away from home despite the lack of safe working conditions and flexible timings and gender friendly policies that can address their grievances, they know the risks they're taking.

And even as their capability is questioned and put to test time and again, the way Nepali working woman choose to answer is through their work itself. It's only fair that they deserve their right to work and in a secure working environment.