Hinduism and its patriarchal norms have had a profound impact on women in Nepal. However, to classify Nepal as a patriarchal society alone would be an oversimplification of the issue. According to Hamal Gurung (2014, p. 175), ‘Nepal is a patriarchal, patrilineal and patrifocal society: its norms are heavily patriarchal’. In addition, patriarchy is reported to occur within all ethnic groups in Nepal.
Due to Hindu tradition and law, from birth to death, women are raised to be dependent on men. The implementation of patriarchy begins in the home through the process of socialization. While boys are given educational opportunities, girls are expected to become homemakers. An overarching consequence of this is that boys become decision-makers and girls then implement the decisions of their husbands. While some girls are given educational opportunities, they are often taken out of school to marry.
Although Nepal’s civil code defines the legal age of marriage as 20, early marriage is still prevalent in Nepali society and many girls are married by 18. Adolescent marriage is also viewed to be the norm by many ethnic groups. The concept of early marriage relates back to ancient Hindu texts which state that marriage should not be delayed until much after puberty and in Nepal, some women are even married before puberty. Although not all girls are forced to leave school after marriage, the domestic responsibilities associated with early marriage and motherhood force school disruption. Girls who refuse to marry to stay in school or to refute a child marriage are often married to an older man, taken to live in his village, and may be beaten or abused if they do not submit to the demands of their husbands or in-laws. Anthropologists have also reported that wife-beating is considered acceptable in village life and need not be explained or justified.
After marriage, women are expected to conceive as soon as possible to prove their fertility which means that adolescent marriage is synonymous with adolescent childbearing. Once married, women are expected to give birth to sons. According to Paudel (2011 n.p.), ‘due to society’s preference for boy children—rooted in religious customs and traditional beliefs—it is important for the wife’s firstborn [sic] child to be a boy. If not, she may have to give birth to many children waiting for a boy to come’. In Hinduism, sons are valued because they are expected to look after their parents as they age, and they are the only ones who can perform funeral rites. Therefore, it is both a practical necessity and a religious duty to have a son. In many communities, this leads to the devaluation of female offspring. In the Terai, for example, the birth of a daughter is viewed as a curse and ‘the whole neighbourhood weeps when a daughter is born’ (Sharma 1986, p. 63). Some ethnic groups do not even view women as human and will respond to the birth of a female child by saying ‘nothing was born’ (Schroeder (2004, p. 717).
Although it is a constitutional right to be able to choose a life partner in Nepal, women are also expected to adhere to their father’s spousal choice. Although there is a slow shift away from “arranged” to “love” marriages, in which individuals have more freedom to choose whom they wish to marry, this still largely occurs with the consent of parents. Marriage is typically arranged by a girl’s parents in negotiation with the groom’s family and girls are given little autonomy in the process. A Hindu marriage is also not dissolvable and is supposed to subsist beyond death. The ancient and outlawed tradition of ‘sati’ (wife burning) which is practiced at the death of a woman’s husband is related to this belief. In this Hindu tradition, a widow is expected to sacrifice herself by sitting on top of her deceased husband’s funeral pyre. Due to Hindu religious values, women also have ‘an attitude of resigned acceptance of the difficulties of life’ (Eller & Mahat 2003, p. 58).
Eller, L & Mahat, G 2003, ‘Psychological factors in Nepali former commercial sex workers with HIV’, Journal of Nursing Scholarship, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 53-60.
Hamal Gurung, S 2014, ‘Sex trafficking and the sex trade industry: the processes and experiences of Nepali Women’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 163-181, doi: 10.1080/07256868.2014.885415
Paudel, S 2011, ‘Women’s concerns within Nepal’s patriarchal justice system’, Ethics in Action, vol. 5, no 6, retrieved 25 September 2017, <http://www.ethicsinaction.asia/archive/2011-ethics-in-action/vol.-5-no.-6-december-2011/womens-concerns-within-nepal2019s-patriarchal/>.
Sharma, K 1986, ‘Bondages of Nepalese women’, Community Development Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 62-65, doi:10.1093/cdj/21.1.62
Schroeder, E 2004, ‘Nepal’, in R Francoeur & R Noonan (eds), The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, The Kinsey Institute, pp. 714-724, retrieved 24 November 2017, <https://kinseyinstitute.org/pdf/ccies-nepal.pdf>.
*Originally published on Asha Nepal’s blog