Development of the rural areas can be regarded as development of the economy as a whole including the socio-cultural and political development of the poorer section of the communities measured in terms of intake of food, better health, and participation of local government along with the process of decision making. In other words rural development is simply a strategy which is designed for the betterment of the social and economic life of a specific group of people that is the rural poor (Tuladhar et al., 2013). It incorporates extending the benefits of development to the poorer especially among those who are in search of a livelihood in the rural areas. The group includes small farmers, landless peoples and tenants. In the case of developing countries overall development is impossible without developing the rural areas where the residents constitutes the lion’s share of the total population (Bhandari, 2013). There have been a number of projects and initiatives undertaken by the government and the nongovernment organization in pursuit of developing these areas. This will help to bridge the gap between the rural and urban areas, have and have not and men and women.
A majority of the public interventions commenced in the past have not been able to boost up the economic growth of the rural areas. According to Paudel and de Araujo (2016), poor management of the public resource, not implementation of the better policies and the indifference of the local government has contributed largely to this failure. As result of this, the rural areas are still deprived from the basic amenities as well as infrastructure such as primary education, drinking water, health care and roads. However, no such actions have been taken in order to deal with these issues. The women population in Nepal constitutes nearly the half of the total population. However, the participation of women in the development activities is not satisfactory. If the administration can utilize the available women workforce effectively and efficiently it will certainly contribute in the process of rural development (Westendorp & Visser, 2015).
The traditional approaches for eradicating poverty as adopted by a number of developing countries focused exclusively on the income and the basic needs, and have failed to alleviate powerlessness and the negative attributes associated with it. On the contrary the approach of empowerment that stressed on enhancing the entitlement of individuals, capabilities and their rights of freedom is considered as most powerful pillar of human development among the four. It effectively reinforces the other three pillars of sustainability, equity and productivity (Westendorp & Visser, 2015). It generates the necessary conditions that enable the poor to take advantage of the poverty alleviation opportunity. Therefore, it can also be said that the empowerment policy only becomes sustainable only when there is an environment where the policies as well as industrial reforms are successfully coupled with grass root initiatives for dealing with the social, economic and political empowerments simultaneously.
Need for Women Empowerment:
Nepal has made significant progress in the development process of increasing the standard of living of its residents since the past 50 years, specifically since the year 1990. However, still the human development of the country is in the lowest segments in the world. People’s needs are still unfulfilled, institutions got weakened and the political conditions have not developed, leaving a large portion of the population outside the process of mainstream development (Sharma & Shekhar, 2015). At this position empowerment of the people who are lagging far behind should be the main focus of the administration of the country. The process of empowerment turns growth pro-poor by extending the capabilities of human beings and improving the effective distribution of the productive assets.
Presently in Nepal, poverty has been established as the single and most powerful issue in the process of development. According to the empirics provided by the government as well as the non-government institutions of Nepal, at least 25 percent of the total population in the country is living below the poverty line (Dalal et al., 2014). It has also been observed that the extent and influence of poverty is much greater in the rural areas when compared to that of in the urban areas. Recently the government and the other development agencies have united and focused on the need for launching a development project in order to develop the economic and sociopolitical condition of the women in Nepal. In order to provide an example the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) published in 2003 depicted social inclusion as an important objective as well as the third pillar of the PRSP, that is aimed at addressing the gender and caste based disparities by incorporating the poor and marginalized groups into the process of mainstream development (Cunningham, 2014). In accordance with that various development processes have been designed and initiated to enhance the development.
At present time, theoretically the system of decentralized governance, implementation approach and participatory planning have been widely accepted. However, these have not been implemented effectively in practice (Cunningham, 2014). Nepal is a very small country but its diversity is vast even in terms of the need of the people as well. Hence, there should be different types of development approaches, strategies and plans for different groups and areas.
According to the human development report of Nepal, (NHDR) 2004, the empowerment index of the country is 0.337 and social empowerment index is 0.406 at the same time the political empowerment index is at 0.646. This low level of economic empowerment strictly indicates that the level of income is low and the accessibility to productive resources is limited and limited employment opportunities (Caeyers & Fuller, 2015). Taking together all these it clearly limits the scope to expand and use the extended social and human capabilities. A high level of human empowerment eradicates the gap between economic and political empowerment, awareness raising and income generating activities are crucial for women who do not have access to productive asset and possess a very low level of bargaining power (Malapit et al., 2015). Therefore, it can be said that the prior objective of any development project should be to distinguish and promote the life giving forces of women with the help of social mobilization, economic opportunities and education.
In a country like Nepal, people who belong to the marginalized sectors such as women bear more burdens in comparison to others. Therefore women in the Nepalese society struggle hard in order to coexist. Since the year 1980 it has been realized that the women in Nepal are a vital contributor to the domestic economy as well as the nation. According to Ryan and Woods (2016), for a woman the access to resources, opportunities, skills and power always remain low. The case of literacy rate, the adult female literacy rate is about 23 percent which much lower than that of the adult male literacy rate which is 57 percent. According to Cunningham et al., (2013), in the context of Nepal there is a strong relationship between the level of input of women in the outskirt of the economy and the process of decision making. However, author disagreed with this statement, in the point of view of this study there is no such relationship between these two.
The constitution of Nepal 1990 along with the Interim Constitution 2007, states non-discrimination and established equality as the fundamental rights of all the citizens of Nepal. In the declaration by the House of Representatives 2063 has stated that there must be a minimum of 33 percent participation of women in every sector of the economy (Kunz, 2013). However, since the last two decades women participation has been initiated but the outcome of the entire process remained at a significantly low level. Inclusion is considered as one of the four pillars of Nepal’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.
In case of most of the community people particularly women are unaware about the process of development in the rural areas of Nepal. The participation level of women in the development process of the communities is significantly low. The disadvantaged and poor groups mainly hold the major portion of the population (Malapit et al., 2013). Because of the lower availability of economic opportunities the arte of per capita income is quite low taken together with weak consideration to major gender related issues (such as accessibility, availability, affordability, sustainability and security) exaggerated the social exclusion. According to Rao & Kushwaha (2016), realizing the reality and lacuna it is quite evident that the social and practical factors that constraints the amalgamation of women in the process of main stream development are- (a) deficiency of ownership over the available resources, (b) constraints on participation in the activities outside houses, (c) low level of income, (d) deficiency of education and lower level of accessibility to the sources of knowledge and information and (e) deficiency of opportunities to get associated with the economic enterprises. Investigating properly the previous attempts made for development and the conclusions derived from the various studies conducted previously depicts that:
- Deficiency of education among women and the decision making process gives rise to inefficient results in the case of child nutrition, survival of the child and participation in school. Child wellbeing and maternal education ate strictly correlated.
- Violence associated with gender and domestic abuses are the most common forms of gender inequality in the domestic sector. Outside the residence the women recognize that they have much less ability to express their point of view and obtain support from the local authorities and the other service providing or development agencies in comparison with men (Mishra & Sam, 2016).
- As in the case of most of households the household work is not considered as productive work. Although according to the empirics of Nepal Human Development Report (NHDR, 2004) the work pressure of Nepalese women is much higher than that of the global average (Bishop, 2013).
- Accessibility to the productive assets and services is a part of the empowerment process.
- The empowerment process and social inclusion are complementary to each other in promoting the equity and prosperity among all.
Therefore, every process of development should consider the above stated facts and the problems as faced by the women.
Patriarchy is suffused in the societal structure of Nepal and it is even observed in a number of guises and forms in between the different castes and ethnic groups. Given the traditional gender divisions of labor, women generally concentrate on their reproductive activities and responsibilities while on the other hand men concentrate on the income earning productive roles (Bishop, 2013). However, as per the Nepal Human Development Report the average work burden of women in Nepal is much higher than that of the global average. In the context of literacy and educational attainment women also lag far behind men. In the rural areas various forms of violence exists against women, the most important among them is the violence based out of superstition, for example anguishing for practicing black magic, sexual abuse, domestic violence, under age marriage and violence related to dowry system. It has also been observed that women have very limited access to productive resources and less control over the resources which they have access. According to Guin?e (2014), more than 70 percent of women are self- employed or involved in non-paid or less paid informal sector activities. Many women are also sent to foreign lands by force.
Therefore from the discussion above it is evident that woman empowerment in Nepal is essential for the development of economy as well as the society. Otherwise, it is not possible for the economy to get market as developed from developing. Women play a crucial role in the process of economic development and in structuring the society. Therefore women empowerment has become a necessity for the country as a whole.
The Socioeconomic Impact of Women Empowerment:
The economic as well as the social status of Nepalese women especially the women from rural areas lag far behind that of men. There has been a powerful bias in favor of a male child in the country. This means that there are discrimination against women from their birth and they are not provided with equal opportunities for development. The situation of women in Nepal can be distinguished as low level of access to education, healthcare facilities, social, political and economic opportunities (Nguyen et al., 2014). Despite the various attempts made by the government and the non-government organizations for improving the socioeconomic situation of the women in Nepal a very little improvement has been achieved.
The empowerment framework of the development process helps the practitioners to effectively obtain the point of intervention in order to achieve higher level of equality as well as the empowerment of women. The empowerment approach focuses on independent decision making by the communities, direct democracy, and self-reliance along with the social learning. The starting point of the empowerment process should be at the grass root level (Nguyen et al., 2014). The most important goal of the empowerment process is to establish equality by transforming the system, structures and institutions where inequality was prevalent.
In Nepal the process of women empowerment involved a number of dimensions that includes, higher access to economic opportunities and the productive resources, establishing the political power through the women’s organizations, strengthening the economic, cultural and sociological activities of the women and boosting up the self-confidence of women (Sharma, 2016).
The government of Nepal has implemented a number of strategies for the women empowerment process. After the 4th world conference based on women held in Beijing in the year 1995 the government of Nepal had established the Ministry of Women and Social Welfare (MWSW) in order to deal with issues associated with women. The MWSW is considered as the leading agency that is responsible for the advancement of women with the help of empowerment. The responsibilities and roles of this organization is to strengthen the advocacy, support and coordination among a number of women’s groups in various ministries (Bhattarai, 2014). Three objectives have been set by the MWSW for the purpose of women empowerment. These objectives are mainstreaming the gender, eradicating the gender inequality and empowering the women along the line as proposed by the Platform of action in Beijing.
At the same time there were non-governmental organizations (NGO) which were actively taking part in the process of empowerment. The number of these organizations was increasing with the passage of time. For example the Women’s pressure group that comprised of 84 NGOs of different categories. There were other networks formed by these NGOs which were focusing on specific issues such as HIV/AIDS, media as well as women trafficking. In order to provide an example of NGO working for women empowerment in Nepal is Women’s Foundation (WF) of Nepal. This organization works for strengthening the legal framework for women and increasing the involvement of women into politics (Bhattarai, 2014). For raising awareness among women seminars and workshops are arranged by the WF. Although the number of NGOs are increasing in Nepal but most of them are urban based and are less effective in affecting the life of rural women for their empowerment initiatives. Therefore, the socioeconomic impact of women empower can clearly be spotted from the discussion above. Initially the situation was worse however, with the tireless effort of government as well as the non-government organizations it has improved a little bit and it can be expected that it will improve further also (Nguyen et al., 2014). For that the government and non-government organizations should focus on strengthening their strategic framework.
In order to conclude, it can be said that the study has successfully covered the issues like why women empowerment is necessary in a country like Nepal and what are the socioeconomic impact of women empowerment in Nepal. There are various problems regarding the economic growth and development in the country and it has been observed that in order to put the country in a steady path of development and growth the contribution of women cannot be neglected. The women population of Nepal contributes to the half of the total population; therefore if the available women workforce is used effectively in Nepal it will evidently yield fruitful outcomes. Now in the case of socioeconomic aspects of women empowerment it is observed there have been a number of attempts made by the government of Nepal for empowering the women. At the same time a number of non-governmental organizations are trying raising awareness among women and enabling them with the proper requirements to participate in the workforce. However, there has been a little improvement that is spotted up till now. However, it can be expected that the situation of women empowerment in Nepal will improve in near future as the government as well as the non-government organizations are trying to improve the scenario with their full efforts.
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