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Single Women: An Alienated Social Group in Nepal

Background Information

Women are considered to be a significant contributor in building a culture of peace and nurturing cultural practices. However, being a patriarchal society, it is no surprise to see single women living a dejected life ignoring every reason to be happy as if they have committed a sin. In Nepal, single women are also known as marginalized group (Regmi 2001), who are forced and sometimes prefer to live alone without men. Although single women are the bread winner and active decision maker (Women Human Right Defenders [WHRD] 2005-2006), they are alienated from the community because they deny to follow the social norms. Widows, badi, divorced, and unmarried women are categorized under single women. Moreover, widows and badi situations are more exacerbated than divorced and unmarried women.
Issues of Single Women in Nepal


In Nepal, widows contain 99% of single women who are shunned by the society (Burathoki 2009). After the death of their husbands, their freedom is taken away by the society. Women for Human Rights reported that 67% of widows resulted from 10 years long armed conflict. Additionally, widows are merely between 20-35 years of age with 3-4 children (Luitel 2009). The status of widows in the country is very depressing because they are shunned by our society. Widows are not allowed to wear colorful dresses, participate in special occasions such as wedding ceremony and religious festival. Moreover, there is a believe that if people see widows while walking on the street for any new work, they will immediately post pond their job because looking widows face before their new work is considered to be a bad luck. Especially young widows are assumed to be witches and are blamed for the death of their husbands.

On the other hand, widows are the ones who are blamed for their own condition. Although their husbands have been killed in the war or an accident, most of them think that their husband died because of their misfortune. They are most likely to become the victim of human trafficking because they have lack of education and skills to work and survive (Thapa 2007). On July 15, 2009, Nepal’s government introduced a new incentive to give Rs. 50,000 cash as a reward for marrying a widow (Joanna 2009). The government has brought the program from the suggestion of economists for social security, but offering cash to marry widows only emphasize the fact that, women cannot be empowered until and unless they have husbands (Basnet 2009).


Badi are the women who came to Nepal from northern India to entertain people by dancing, singing and making madals, a musical instrument, in 1890s. However, later in 1950s, they lost their customers so sex work became their main income (Gurung 2002). After having frequent unprotected sex, the women are giving birth to children whose fathers are unknown. Those children have to face poor nurturing and social insecurities after their birth because of their unidentified fathers. Similarly, citizen certificate is impossible for those children, although Nepal citizenship act (2006) defines “Any person born at the time when his father or mother is a citizen of Nepal, shall be a citizen of Nepal by descent" (Nepal citizenship act [2063] 2006). However, it has been practiced only in the name of father. Additionally, marriages with badi are against the social norms in the country because people think that all badi are involved in sex work although there are some young badi who are not involved in sex work (Cox 1992). Ultimately, widows and badi who are involved in sex work to survive have a high risk of HIV and AIDS as well as many other diseases that are found in the country. Thus, the government should bring new incentives to empower them through education, vocational courses and employment oriented training so that they could earn a livelihood with a healthy life.

Divorced and Unmarried Women

In Nepal, there are many women who are aware of their rights but are not satisfied with their marriage for various reasons and get divorced. However, about 465 Muslim women are forcefully thrown out of the house by their husbands without any support (Parajuli 2008). Likewise, unmarried women who are above 35 years age are also known as single women. There are some feminists, who prefer to stay alone and call themselves as ‘single women’ to remove the discrimination against single women (Women for Human Rights 2003). However, both of them are being gossiped and criticized by society for refusing the social norms. Thus divorced and unmarried women are less exploited than others.


There is a famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi that says “If the women of Asia wake up, they will dazzle the world” (V Mohini n.d.). Thus, the government of Nepal should not delay to recognize the rights of single women, and the women should be considered to be the assets of the country.


Basnet, Sunita. (2009, July 28). Marriage or sales advertisement. Retrieved November 28, 2009, from World Pulse website

Burathoki G, Kanchan. (2009, August 10). Marriage incentive riles single women. Retrieved December 8, 2009, from Republica Social Affairs website

Cox, Thomas. (1992, January). The badi-prostitution as a social norm among an untouchable caste of west Nepal. Retrieved December 6, 2009, from Scribd website

Giri, V Mohini. (2000). Transforming approached to conflict resolution. Retrieved November 25, 2009, from CAPWIP: Center for Asia-pacific Women in Politics website

Gurung, Trishna. (2002, July 05-11). Badi women must now contend with vigilante. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from Nepali Times website

Jolly, Joanna. (2009, July 16). Nepal widows dismiss marriage incentive. Retrieved November 25, 2009, from BBC NEWS website

Luitel, Anjana. (2009, June 24). International widow day. Retrieved on November 30, 2009, from World Pulse website

Nepal citizen act 2063 (2006). (2006, November 26). An act enacted for amendment and integration of matters relating to Nepal citizenship act. Retrieved December 6, 2009, from British Citizen website:

Parajuli, Kalpit. (2008, December 1). Nepal: Muslim women in the street against ‘talak’ divorce. Retrieved December 7, 2009, from Women living under Muslim laws website

Regmi, Chandra Shibesh. (2001, March). A marginalised group: listening to badi community. Retrieved December 6, 2009, from ActionAid Nepal: western regional office, Nepalgunj website

Thapa, Lily. (2007, December 8). Nepal’s widow : 16 days against gender violence. Retrieved November 24, 2009 from Opendemocracy 50.50 inclusive democracy website

Women for Human Rights (WHR). (2003, June 9-11). Single women empowerment workshop in Dang. Retrieved December 8, 2009, from Friedrich Ebert Stiftung website

Women Human Right Defenders (WHRDs). (2005-2006). Urgent: badi women human rights defenders attacked and detaine. Retrieved December 6, 2009, from Women’s rehabilitation center (WOREC) website


jodelight's picture

well said


Your entry was so interesting and informative. Women in Nepal must face so many struggles, including status. Thank you for sharing this in depth, and explaining it so well.
My favorite part is the quote by Gandhi, “If the women of Asia wake up, they will dazzle the world” . Wow! that's is so well said, thank you for reminding us. World, get ready for some sparks, it appears the dazzle has begun!

sunita.basnet's picture

I am glad

Dear Jodelight,

I am glad that you like my post. I am just trying to speak out to bring the positive change in the country. mine too, I love some of the quote from Mahatama Ghandi. I think the world has forgetten the power of us (women) so I am only trying to introduce the reality of women.

It's not only a quote but one day we will be able to dazzle the world. we will need some time about it.

Thank you so much for your beautiful words. till yesterday I was busy with my final paper and miss all of your inspiring words. However, I am back again.

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

JaniceW's picture

from a Single Woman

Namaskar. Your writing grows stronger with each post. This is an enlightening piece with some great information regarding the status, or lack thereof, of single women in Nepal. It seems that women are systematically discriminated against and from what you have written, seem to be a highly abused sector of the population. How agonizing it must be for a widow to not only lose her husband but then to have to consider the circumstances and low status she now finds herself in. That a woman's position is derived only from her relationship with a man is such a barrier to empowerment and achievement.

I wonder if there are support groups or relief centers that are assisting these single women. It is so great that women such as yourself, Khushbu, Anjana and Yuko are speaking out so that these single women's voices are heard at all levels. Thank you for sharing this information and I look forward to reading more from you. Hardik subhakamana,

sunita.basnet's picture

It's world pulse


Sanchai hunu huna chha. yeah it's true that my writing is growing stronger and it's because of world pulse. yes I do agree with you about the pain of widow. Loosing their husbands itself is a sorrow for them and the misbehave of their relatives and neighbors is more agonizing.

Yes there are some organizer who are working to support widows among them is women for human right and the founder, Lily Thapa, is also a widow and she is trying hard to support widows and empower them. Sure i will be writing more about it. Now I am writing a script of a drama, Silent Scream, about the gender discrimiantion which we are going to show in AUW. I wonder if we can upload the video in pulse wire.

Anyway, please let me know, we are going to show on last january in AUW so that we can make a video and upload in the pulsewire.

Looking forward to hear from you.
Best regards

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

JaniceW's picture


Alas Sunita, you cannot upload video for now (we are working on that) but if the video exists on another website, you can link to that site. Am looking forward to seeing it. How exciting for you!

sunita.basnet's picture

Didi, Sure I will try to do

Didi, Sure I will try to do that.... I have finish 50% of feauture article hope fully next week I am going to submit.....
Thank you so much Didi
Hajur ko Bahini,

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Sophie's picture

Inciteful post

Thanks for your insightful post, on what is happening to women in Nepal. The more I read the posts in Pulsewire the more I can't help but marvel and be saddened by the universality of the women's issues and more so violations across the world. It is such a pity that a widow is sunned instead of being supported so she has to keep not only with the sorrow of losing her love if she was married but also the stigma of something she has no control over. I can think of violations of women in Kenya in this situation even though kind of different. One of the major one is the decision over her future marital status after losing the husband. In many communities the lady is somehow expected to stay single for life after that regardless of her age, even if this is not explicitly said, it is implied that she was the wife of their son and will remain so forever. Any attempt on getting a love life or marriage is looked at with suspicion and discouraged and more often than not this will lead to having bad relations with her in-laws which is quite especially if the woman has kids. She becomes torn in between the love for her kids, late husband and the fact that she would wish for her children to have better relations with their father's family. Many women end up sacrificing their happiness for the 'sake of peace'. Single women who have never been married are also looked at with suspicion and one often gets advice on why they are better of getting children than being single and no children, while single mothers are also facing their own different kind of marginalization and accusation with possibilities of finding a spouse very limited! In other words the woman who is treated 'with respect' is a married woman, who stays in the marriage regardless of the situation.

Your post has really inspired me I will have to seek for women's views on the same and write a post on the Kenyan situation! Thanks.

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe

Dear Sophie N,

First of all, sorry to respond you late. Yes the situation of widow is miserable. She has a pain of losing her beloved and have to give up all her happiness.Not only this, she has to be mentally prepare to fight against the social norms, the day she become the widow.

I am glad that you are inspired from my post and are thinking to write a post on the Kenyan situation. I wonder if it is about women. I would love to read your post please let me know when are you going to post. I know no matter where women are from everywhere they are oppresed.

Moreover, I am inspired to write about women's situation in Nepal because all of your inspiring comments. Once again thank you so much.

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Sunita, your thoughtful and impressively documented article unveils a huge problem in Nepal, maybe also present in other societies.

Is it a diffused matter of double standards?

As far as Nepal may seem, I see similarities to the West. The "right" role for women is also here of wife and mother. Any other carries a stigma, especially on those who are single by their choices, with strong interests to follow. They are automatically labeled "acid" persons for just that, and treated with a bit of suspect.

This compares to the immense pressure media place on girls and boys to form couples from as early as primary school, stereotyping children into miniature adults (and, in my opinion, preventing them to be just children). They have to conform at very early age to a model of patriarchal family in which the two ends are constricted in incredibly narrow roles. For girls, this expectation translates in overvaluing beauty and attractiveness, and feeling fulfilled only if "popular" and "loved" - that is, in others' eyes.

This training goes on, year after year. On secondary school a more explicitly sexual dimension adds up. At high school, popularity game explodes. And on, further.

I hope you do "not" have so many opportunity to watch Italian mainstream television, as you will see there a portray of what women are expected to be - voiceless sexy dolls whose existence is justified only in terms of the lust they may elicit in someone else.

No wonder the (few) independent people surviving this forging are considered with suspect. They have survived the drilling, first of all, and this is sufficient to reveal them as a bit subversive.

On the other side: who may explore new possibilities? Singles may give a huge contribution (OK, off chorus, but the most interesting things to discover are just there, in the uncharted lands of existence).

Your words are always inspiring and revealing


Hello Mauri,
Merry x-mas and Happy New year 2010. May all your wishes come true on this special occasion?
Yes, we women are ignored every where no matter from which country we are from. Somehow, we are ignored from our society. In most part of the world, many women are well known because of their attractiveness and beauties. Thus we the educated women need to work to bring change in people’s perception to show the world that women can be well known of their intelligence and thought.
Mauri, I am sorry to say that I don’t watch television so I am not familiar with Italian mainstream show. However I would love to see that…

Last but not the least how are you??

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Mauri's picture

Might diffused education be an answer?!

Sunita, my dear friend!

I have to thank you for your wishes, and wish the same to you!
And why limiting to only one year, as we always do? Why not all the years to come? So, I begin with yours, hoping they all will be happy, and carry their own light.

If you don't watch television, the Italian especially, you lose really nothing ;-)
I too do it quite a little, less even to date - it portrays a world with few connection, I see, with our planet.

Of "intelligence, thought, and passion". You are so right. That "should" be and, I'm sure, it will (soon I hope). I've spoken some days ago with an acquaintance of mine about a particular colleague, a young woman engineer. My appreciation was about her kindness and correctness, something I find not as often as I would in professional life (professionally she's tough and "very engineer", yet in the same time sweet and loving). His main concern were about her allure might have had better in high heels (she's really pretty, incidentally), and some image of "danger" around of her (because, I imagine, she's quite independent - my impression when we worked together on a project was of a great colleague, reliable, passionate, and decidedly more interested to engineering than ladder-climbing). Same person, two orthogonal views. I found this acquaintance's remarks offensive, and did my best to make this apparent. No way. He went on 'till I abandoned him with himself and his coffee ;-)

The way is long, I see.

I'm not able to see people other as human beings and concerns, and really can't imagine them as "objects". But, isn't it so "so"? Is it really possible to strip off a person of all her own concerns, thoughts, values, experiences, emotion and seeing in her just a "resource"? By the way I'm not able. I found that colleague's uttering horrible, deeply disgusting. He imagined having said something brilliant...

Meanwhile, I understand my way of conceiving human relations is common, but not mainstream. And, it is not limited to gender or explicitly sexual aspects. I perceive the very same module in professional speaking, as people are labeled "human resources". Resources! To use! (No one of the colleagues in my reach has any longer the courage of using the term "human resource", by the way - I don't think it's a victory, surely they don't do in my presence expecting retaliations ;-) )

Maybe, to solve the problem we should deconstruct the very concept of "man" and "woman", and "de-categorize" them (forgive me for the confusion!). I've read a fascinating book by Joan Roughgarden, an important evolutionary biologist, who restated the terms in purely biological terms. Men produce sperms and have a steady biorhythm, women ova and a monthly biorithm. Period. But (some other detail apart) they are the same towards the fundamental facts and moments of human life, as loving, surviving, exploring, having rights and opportunities... Our culture places so many stereotyped expectations onto individuals, instead of respecting them for whom they really are. Doing so would require an immense (and diffused) sensitivity, a will to communicate, and an enormous deal of curiosity...

But an industry which thrives flooding the world with gendered goods, social structures which make their best to enforce any kind of division in categories hoping to conform people to these and make them predictable and docile, and hard to die practices do not make a change easy.

The voice of women is essential.

As also a bit of "de-programming" maybe. Many women i Italy share the same view of men, and engage in the attractiveness game, heading nowhere. Education to independent thought might also be of great value, I guess.

I write this from Valtellins, in Sondalo, a little mountain town, where I'm spending my holiday time, visiting my brother. The weather is rainy and not that cold, after a freezing week all over Europe. But, is getting better, and I hope we'll dosome hiking in the wonderland of Stelvio National Park. Saying I'm feeling great is a bit understatement. I'm in connetion with friends I don't see often, and seeing their children to "expand" (it's not just "growing"! you are somewhere else for a couple weeks, and their world changes! This in itself would be worth the visit...)

And you, my dear? How are you?



Dear MAuri,

I am well and hope you tooo. I do understand that the voice of women is important and we all are working to bring the equality. These days I am working in a paper hopefully after some days I will be able to post in the pulsewire. That is a special new year post. hehhehehhehe

These we are working in our drama and also I am working in the visa so I am little busy although it's our vacation.

How are you dear????

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Mauri's picture

I'm thrilled to see your next post!

Sunita, my dear,

I'm thrilled waiting to read your next post!

Your posts are more and more alike Big Names' Articles, and is always a pleasure and an occasion to learn. Whatever the subject.

(As your visa is right, I guess we'll soon see you as editor in some important newspaper or magazine, worldwide diffusion ;-) )

I too am working to a post, a tiny one, or better "two". One is the final release of the Long Description, and the other deals with the problem of homophobia in Italy (quite a sad writing - I'm progressing quite slowly).

These days would have been of vacation for me but, it rains!
So nice anyway, it's not so often I visit my brother and all the family is united.
Just yesterday evening I attended a presentation of my brother on the alpine ptarmigans, a bird he studied during his thesis, and I love so much (they live in places making me freeze just trying to imagine them; and there, eating on almost nothing, escaping predators, resisting snow and ice, they bring up their little children and, they survive! Would I be able doing just ne tenth of this...). The presentation was really wonderful.

Bleah, work tries intruding, too. A client of mine just mailed me after eight months (zero point eightyeight child gestations!), with two words of greetings and a long sequel of technical questions... I replied immediately, and he greeted me back adding "Oh, I didn't expect a reply!"

(See, how humans sometimes are! ;-) (it's the same for me, too) )

"Entrepreneurs" - and simulations like me - always are supposed to work. He imagines I'm doing.. Ha Ha! But in this moment I'm exploring in Pulsewire, and (more immediate) looking at the rain changing to snow through the window.

Tomorrow I expect a white landscape, no less!

Three days ago, my brother proposed me to take a little hike, and I readily accepted. We arrived in minutes to Migiondo, a little village where time seems having stopped. We chatted with an old man, who said us of when people worked on the mountain, showing us the terraces now invaded by the trees, and vividly recalling when he, almost a child, went there to get hay and cut the little trees before they invaded the small field his parents needed to get something to eat. At Migiondo encounters like this are not uncommon, and the wise sweetness of people always touches me. They are simple people, with a pure heart - saying I'm in love with that little place and its inhabitants is plain understatement.

Then, the ordeal began. As soon as you leave Migiondo, a trail climbs up among the terraces, delimited and supported by dry-stone walls hand-made so precisely one can't imagine. And after ten minutes you arrive where ice begins. My brother is accustomed walking on that damned sliding sheet, but I'm a real disaster. I admit I was a bit afraid, anticipating the fact we should have also descended...

In the end, however, this opened the way to an incredible encounter: a flower! Not a gorgeous one, but sprouting from the ice, opening its way through its hardness. In this season it's moving, I feel, to see and touch life going on despite harsh conditions.

I wish as many unexpected encounters like these will happen to me, you, and all our beloved on any day of our life.

Sunita, dear,
with love.


cjohnson68's picture

Learning Curve


thank you for your articles. I find it so refreshing to understand these issues directly from a woman's perspective who is not restrained by the criticisms of their immediate community. I helped my organization, an NGO, establish itself in Nepal over ten years ago. Our focus has been sustainable development in the rural areas. Our programs have alleviated many burdens that women suffer in the villages such as biogas digesters cleaning up air quality in the kitchens, improving sanitation etc. We have worked with women on entrepreneurial activities, created better access to health care as well as educational scholarships for the girls. However, it is long overdue that our organization go through a serious gender mainstreaming process. When I ask our Nepali staff (almost all male) about gender inequity, they paint a pretty picture of shared decision making, equal voice and a culture that acknowledges both genders equally.

I am growing impatient about not knowing 'the rest of the story'. I have come to believe that poverty can never be solved without aggressively addressing the gender equity issue. I also have been in the development industry long enough to know that changing culture requires deep motivation and passion from the inside. I have seen too many 'right' ideas go wrong because they were imposed from the outside. This applies to community of all varieties. One of the first matter of business that I believe needs to happen is to have more female representation on our staff. This starts by sensitizing our director to gender issues.

Not being a woman or Nepali, I am at a great disadvantage for creating the kind of culture within my Nepali team that can become true advocates of gender equity. I need help. I need allies in Nepal...women whom I can work with to educate and help "mainstream" myself and my team first so that our org can do the same in the villages where we work.

Do you have any suggestions?

humbly yours,


sunita.basnet's picture


Dear Chris,

Waooooooooooooo! What a wonderful work you are doing in Nepal? I am happy not because you are investing oyur time in Nepal but I am happy that you are also concious about the representation of women in your organization.. I wonder with which organization you are working in rural Nepal so that I can give you a good sugegstion?? I also wonder what types are program are you luncing to reduce gender discrimiantion from the country??

Regarding creating women allies, I would first suggest you to include atleast 50% women staffs in your organization because women represent more than 50% of the total population... I know it will be challenging but now there are many educated women who can contribute far better than men.... If you want I can introduce with some of Nepalese women change maker who are working to bring social justic....Nowadays many organization are backwards because all are represented by men even if they are working for women's right...

Moreover, I am glad that you find this article so refreshing to understand the issues of my community. I wonder what is your NGO name that you are helping in Nepal.... I am happy that you are working to help Nepalese women and bring the equality in the coutnry. I am also from the rural Nepal, I wonder in what types of work you invest your valuable time in rural Nepal??

If you want any help from me, please let me know...
thank you
Best regards

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

cjohnson68's picture

Nepal gender equity


thank you so much for your response and enthusiasm for assisting. I work for an NGO called CHOICE Humanitarian. Our project sites currently are in Lamjung and Chitwan. Most of the staff comes from the rural areas but currently live in KTM.

We are a grassroots NGO focused on leadership capacity building by facilitating community organization, mobilization, networking and project execution based on village identified priorities of projects and programs. We find ourselves primarily supporting the construction of schools, sub-health posts, biogas digesters, water systems, economic development programs and conservation projects.

Your point about 50% women staff is a good start...and will take time to get there. I have just sent a woman, Rebekah Sosa, to Nepal to train our local team on how to create powerful media via photography and video production as a way of documenting impact and telling the stories of the people we work with. I would love to connect Rebekah with any of your network of woman writers and gender activists. Bekah will be spending a lot of time in rural Lamjung living with one of the most powerful women leaders of the area, Durga Adhikari, in the village of Okhalepani.

Bekah is planning to spend some time training Durga about how to create media in a way to tell her story which leads me to see a really amazing connection between CHOICE and Worldpulse's intention of powerfully getting the voice of women out to the world.

How can I connect you and her? how can I connect her to your network in Nepal?
thanks Sunita.


sabina's picture

single woman

Namaskar suni di,

I got to know about the single woman of our society through your post. I didnt know that badi group are also called single woman. And it's true that single woman are not consider appropriate in our society. But I am really inlfuenced by the quote of Mahtma Gandhi. women can amazed the world by their unity and their strength.

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