Women in Conflict torn- Nepal
Along with physical abuse, molestation and rape, women experienced psychological problems resulting to frequent headaches, high blood pressure, stress, and depression. They were traumatised by the problems and exploitations they faced during this ten- year conflict which profoundly degraded their physical and psychological health.
According to the data provided by INSEC (Informal Sector Service Centre) the conflict has resulted in disappearance of 137 women, abduction of 267 women and death of 912 women.
During the conflict period in many villages, there were no male members and women served as home makers, income generators and sufferers as well. These women in Nepal were mostly engaged in menial jobs and get low wages as compared to male counterparts on the same level of job.
There were a lot of cases where women were brutally attacked by either the state army or the rebel group. Due to the conflict, girls were sent to city areas and end up working in cabin restaurants, massage parlors or even in brothels in order to survive and support their families. Oftentimes, they suffer physical and sexual abuse from the owners of these establishments. Many of the women also worked as domestic workers in Gulf countries who experienced abuse from their employees and recruiters.
Shobbha, 19, from Rupendehi was so determined to get a job as a domestic worker in Qatar that she endured being raped repeatedly by her agent, Shyam Neupane. She trusted the man because he was from her village and promised to send her to Gulf. After three weeks, Shobha did fly to Qatar where she washed dishes and cleaned floors. One night her employer, Shahid Sheikh and six of his friends raped her until she became unconscious. She was hospitalised for 15 days and sent back to Nepal. Shahid Sheikh was never charged in court. Shobha's story is typical of those who have worked abroad.
Those who cannot afford to migrate, struggle to live their lives in the villages which are often visited by the state army and the rebel group who cause greater problems for the women there.
According to INSEC, in 2005 there were 40 cases of rape by the security forces and seven cases by Maoists from 2002 to 2005. In April 2002, two girls were abducted by army personnel and were alleged to have been raped repeatedly.
Government support and intervention in all these cases are not enough and hardly respond to the root cause of the problem. Women were deprived of proper education and access to social services such as health facilities.
In rural areas, lack of access to health facilities has directly affected the women. During the period of war, as the health posts were used as landmines, women had to give birth in jungles. Staying in cowsheds during monthly cycle and after giving birth is still prevalent in many communities. Women were not given proper food and are not even allowed to attend daily hygiene concerns such as taking a bath. Young women were greatly affected by the conflict as well. Due to fear of abduction and rape by either the state army or rebel groups, parents forced daughters to marry at an early age.
Women are still regarded as the second class citizens in Nepal even to its laws and policies. A case in point is its abortion law. After the legalization of abortion, there are still 48 women in the jail serving their sentence for abortion related offenses and seven were arrested after the passage of law.
Most of the women in Nepal do not know about their basic human rights, so it becomes challenge to acquaint them also with their reproductive and health rights. In fact talking about reproductive health is taboo. Women who freely talk about this are disrespected and are regarded as a disgrace to the family and to society.
Indeed, the conflict in Nepal has brought a complex web of problems to women. But an importance area of intervention is necessary in order to fully restore the rights and dignity of women affected by the conflict- that is political will from the government to end the oppression and violence perpetuated by state parties and rebel groups, and start creating genuine program that will rebuild the lives of the people, especially women.
P.S. This article was written in April 2008 and is orginally published in Newsletter 92, Volume 16 of Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights