EDWON focuses on Dalit women who live at the intersection of powerful negative social forces — forces beyond their control. Dalit women of Nepal are subject to harsh conditions in one of the world’s poorest countries. They suffer additionally as members of the rural poor; and the low status of women combined with the social exclusion of Dalits magnify the effect of their poverty. For each girl and woman, this means a life of discrimination, suffering and often violence – with little or no access to justice, education, or livelihoods.
Nepal, situated between india and China, is one of the poorest countries in the world. On the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, Nepal is #157 among 187 nations. Over half the population lives below the international poverty line. The caste system and the low status of women combines with Nepal’s poor educational system and infrastructure to present great obstacles to development.
Villages in rural Nepal are geographically remote with little or no vehicular access. Arable land is scarce and tiny fields are terraced and cut out of the steep mountain sides. Infrastructure and sanitation are non-existent.
People of rural Nepal live in a feudal society in a punitive hierarchy sustained by an ancient caste system. Justified by Hindu religious doctrine, those born into the “lowest castes” are treated as “untouchables”. The term Dalit means “oppressed” and is the term chosen by Dalits. They ho are recognizable to all by their last names, and are thought to make up approximately 20% of Nepal’s population.
Living in an apartheid-like society, Dalits have traditionally been barred from access to education, jobs, housing, the judicial system, political representation and even public places of worship. Discrimination is a major contributor to extreme poverty, especially in rural communities throughout Nepal.
Nepal, like the rest of South Asia, is steeped in a culture of bias against women and girls causing great inequality between men and women in areas such as literacy, health, and political participation.
For Dalit women caste compounds their already difficult situation. According to Human Rights Watch, Dalit women make up most of Nepal’s ultra poor: more than 90 percent of Dalit women live below the poverty line. They score lower than all groups in Nepal on most social indicators, suffering an average lifespan of only 42 years – and a 7 percent literacy rate.
The stigma of “untouchability” imposed on Dalit women pushes them to the margins of society: and their status at the bottom makes them vulnerable to serious health issues, to sex trafficking and domestic violence.
Because of a number of factors such as illiterate parents, poverty, marginalization and hopelessness, Dalit children are much less likely to attend and complete school and to pass the national School Leaving Certificate (SLC), the basic secondary school qualification exam. According to the Feminist Dalit Organization, only 3.8% of Dalits complete the SLC. Poor families depend on their children’s labor both at home and for pay outside the home. Since girls in general are not valued, their education is often being sacrificed.
International Dalit Solidarity Network
Nepal Dalit Information
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