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Women's land entitlement and human development

"Land is the main asset of Nepal and relates us to our identity. Little less than one third of the people of Nepal are below poverty line and among them women are those who do not have access to resources. Due to 50% rebate in registration fee there has been increase in women's land entitlement and to gain profit land has been given to women"

Honorable Constituent Assembly member Ms. Kamala Pant put forwarded her view about women's land entitlement in an interaction program organized by Consortium for Land Research and Policy Dialogue (COLARP).

The women's land entitlement has drastically been changed for the last few years when Government decided to rebate taxation amount up to 50%. But the question arises is: are women really benefiting from the land entitlement? or or are women really empowered or are they acquiring land by the policy intervention only. Though women have been said to be treated equally; there are many discriminatory laws in Nepal which has hindered women's growth. Land is one of the most prized natural resources but women are deprived of inheriting parental property. Moreover the widows were also not entitled to inherit their husband's property until 2002.

In this context when land is concerned the state also seems to have discriminated women because when land was being given to the landless people. The land entitlement certificates were given to male members only neglecting the other citizens. So this shows that the government is not willing to give land to women. Moreover land is not given to women because people have doubt that if she elopes with other man then she will take the land with her. With many cultural upbringing and societal norms women in Nepal are deprived of inheriting parental property or acquire land.

In every age land has held the optimal importance. Land is regarded as the major natural resource which defines the person’s importance in the society.In every region of the world land is regarded as the ultimate property that human being can posses. Land title deeds are the main form of security used to secure loans and credit. The colonization that took place in this world was also due to the greed to acquire more land in ones country’s name. And the disparity that is seen in the society is also due to the unequal distribution of land.

In every society there is seen that land is acquired more by men than women; who is also regarded as one of the main reasons behind women being backward. Land ownership not only provides social security but also empowers the owner being one of the most accumulated natural resources. But women are not subject to inherit land in their names as law recognizes sons only as the ultimate heir. In context of Nepal gradually law has recognized daughters as heirs.

There is also a debate going on whether the law to provide women with the inheritance right is feasible in current societal context or not. As the law has recognized daughters as heir with certain criteria the daughters are still not able to utilize their rights. Introduction of rebate on taxation if the land is bought in women’s name has definitely increased the number of women land owners but whether women are empowered through acquisition of land or not is still debatable.

In context of agrarian economy land and livelihood are closely connected with each other. And to enhance one’s livelihood land acquisition is regarded as the optimal resource. Livelihood refers to “A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to their livelihoods at local and global levels and in the long and short term” (Chambers 1997)

Thus land entitlement is not only subject to enhance one's economic security but also helps to achieve other human needs. Land can be kept as collateral and used for further investments, education etc. So in the presence of land entitlement women will have better access to opportunities resulting in better life and in the absence they suffer miserably.

The ever debatable issue is whether human development is only economic welfare? The high income countries also have low human development in the absence of freedom, participation, leisure time activities and so on. In this regard the following description points toward the different aspects of human development from the perspective of women's land entitlement.

It is a well known fact that if people get something of their own they take care of it better. Likewise if women will be given land they will put more effort on it. Women in Nepal work more in the field than men when they don’t own a land if it will be given to them then the productivity might increase. There is another school of thought arguing that the land owned by women are less productive but in majority of the cases the land given to women are non-facility land i.e. no access to road, irrigation or market. Moreover sidelining the economic benefits, the crops planted by women are more households oriented rather than market oriented which might have given the perception of low productivity as their main focus remains on household needs. As already stated human development is not confined to the economic status only, the presence of nutritious food within the household direct towards better health of the family members.

Land entitlement enables women to come out of the four walls of their home resulting in empowerment. They will have better access to information and will be aware about different issues relating them and their family. Moreover, she will have her say in the decision making process which else will not be either in the household level or in the society. Land entitlement enables her to access the land entitlement certificate which in the absence of land entitlement is not even shown to her. Thus land entitlement not only helps women participate and involve in decision making process but also will help her access information, issues concerning her and her family.

The 11th amendment of the civil code gives inheritance rights to women right after their birth and takes it back when they get married. As women do not have land after marriage they are subject to tolerate domestic violence in the fear of being homeless. Moreover, one group of the society is always powerful and independent and other group being always dependent is not only subject to domestic violence but are to endure it in the absence of economic, social and political security. In the absence of resources they are not only denied to resources but also to education, employment and dignity in the society. Without land women do not have right to participation, nationality and mobility. With the land entitlement the society will have balanced gender roles and responsibility.

The current global debate on privatization, expansion and accessibility of different organization to access resources has even streamlined resource rights. In the absence of resource rights in their own country, women are more at a vulnerable state and create space for fear whether they might be excluded in exercising their resource rights forever. Moreover, the practices and knowledge women have acquired for such a long time period is at the verge of denial due to globalization and patent rights. In this scenario women's knowledge and skill are seen to be useless and women are to be hired as skilled expert and discussion about their knowledge and skill rights should be done globally.

Moreover in the absence of land entitlement women are to work as ritualized commercial sex workers and are also offered as prayers in the temples in the western region of Nepal. Though law prohibhits such practices the presence of Badis and Deukis( girls of tender age as of 7 years) verifies that these practices are still going on in Nepal.

The Badis, originally entertainment caste, migrated to Nepal from India some three centuries ago. They made drums and musical instruments, fished, danced and sang. They would go to homes of landlords or zamindars to entertain at social ceremonies, in return for food. In time, the zamindars claimed some of the girls as concubines. They would use them, and then abandon them when they had children.

Political, cultural and economic changes, particularly over the last fifty years, have contributed to and produced the development and practice of prostitution as a strategy of survival for many in the Badi community. Subsequently, it has been said that prostitution is the “traditional caste occupation” of the Badi and it has often been defined thus as a part of the caste system. In line with the socio-political transformations taking place in Nepal from the early 1950s and with the growth of prostitution, many male family members became economically dependent on the earnings of women. That situation was partly responsible for the loss of traditional community skills and professions.

The Badi women are the main bread earners of their families. The women of this community are stigmatize and disgraced by state, society and community for practicing commercial sex work as a major source of their earnings. Such practice has denied Badi Women from accessing their Human Rights, Economic, Social, Cultural and Political Rights while subjecting them to exploitation, injustice and suppression at all levels that has been a regular practice.

They do not want to pursue prostitution any more. But endemic poverty and social stigmatization make them bound to pursue it. As a result of that Badi children have been deprived of their citizenship certificate. In this patriarchal society, fatherless children have few or no rights. It can be difficult to register their births, and thus get them citizenship, school admission, even the right to vote. Already nonentities in society’s eyes, daughter dutifully followed their mothers into prostitution, often encouraged by parents no longer willing or able to work themselves. Badi men lived off the women’s work.

In the absence of citizenship certificate they cannot own land. Without land entitlement they cannot pursue other career as well. So many Badi families have migrated to India in search of work as maids or guards. Previously it was accepted and open but now due to pressure from governments they are not able to work as commercial sex workers and government has not yet provided alternatives for their livelihood. Using the AIDS threat as leverage, the Badis have been seeking government help to move into other lines of work, but without success.

Deuki are those girls who are made as offerings to temples in western region of Nepal. People with no or little income sell their daughters to the wealthy people who in turn offer them to the temple as deuki who stay at the temple all her life. In the absence of proper food, these deukis are often involved in commercial sex or are kept as house maids by those who offer them at the temple. The daughters are specially sold at the age of 7 to 9 by those parents who do not have proper income or in other words adequate land.

After being offered at the temple she is not taken back by the family so she does not have share on her parental property. So in the absence of proper education, citizenship certificate and land entitlement she is to live in destitute.

The tradition of Deuki started when Doti, western region of Nepal, was in ruin due to drought, cholera, the then king Nagi Malla's priest suggested to offer his daughter to the temple of Bhageshwor Mahadev. But now the tradition has been modified and wealthy people are offering the daughters of poor in the temple thus making the life of a girl even more miserable.

Though land holds many economic benefits but more than that it has many social issues associated with it. Land entitlement not only relates to one's identity and livelihood but also is one of the means to human development. Human development not only is confined to economic welfare but also to different aspects to human welfare. So land is very essential to balance the gender relations, increase productivity and participation in decision making process. Moreover, as land entitlement enables women to opt for other livelihood options, with land entitlement ritual based sex work that is expected to remain in the society for the past centuries can be abolished. Thus the currently being drafted constitution should incorporate all the aspects of women's land entitlement and special provisions are to be established so that women can make use of their rights and move towards better livelihood options.

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