Casteism in Nepal
Casteism in Nepal is a centuries-old social class system. This system oppresses lower-caste communities and gives power to upper-caste, educated Nepalis. Historically, the caste system justified the subjugation of lower castes, allowing upper-caste Nepalis to use their status to gain security and power. Roughly 260 million people in South Asia are “Dalits,” or members of lower castes, and are therefore treated as ‘untouchable’ by their social superiors. Dalits in Nepal face social, economic, cultural and political marginalization and routinely fall victim to both institutional and structural discrimination. Despite legal provisions intended to eradicate caste discrimination in Nepal, hate crimes and acts of violence against the Dalit community are rampant. The discrimination and violence Dalits experience severely limit their access to equal education, employment and housing opportunities.

Inadequate Legal Protections

After the monarchy was overthrown, the Nepali constitution explicitly banned discrimination “on grounds of origin, religion, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, region, ideology or on similar other grounds.” When the Civil Act 1963 emerged, its primary focus was to make caste-based discrimination a punishable offense. The Untouchability and Discrimination Act and the Constitution of Nepal both provide legal protections for Dalits. Yet, discrimination against marginalized communities in Nepal—particularly Dalit people—remains prevalent.

Despite the instituted legal provisions, cases of caste-based discrimination rarely make it to court, much less result in a conviction. In the rare case of a conviction, perpetrators often avoid jail and walk free after merely paying a small fine. “The discriminatory practice of excluding Dalits from all social practice is so deep-rooted that victims have not been able to speak up for their rights which has resulted in such a few numbers of cases in court,” says Durga Sob, President of the Feminist Dalit Organization.

Discrimination Exacerbated by COVID-19

Discrimination against Dalits is embedded in Nepal’s social fabric. COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown have only exacerbated incidents of violence and prejudice. A global crisis such as the pandemic not only exposes existing structural inequalities but also deepens their effects. The lockdown has not prevented violence against Dalits from taking place; there were at least 31 documented cases of physical violence against Dalits during the lockdown period. In particular, an incident on May 23rd in Soti Village, Rukum triggered a nationwide anti-caste movement against casteism in Nepal. The movement, called “Dalit Lives Matter,” is inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States. That day, Nabaraj BK, Tikaram Sunar and Ganesh Budha were murdered in Rukum–a hate crime committed out of caste-based prejudice.

Especially Vulnerable Groups

As previously established, state-imposed discriminatory practices are historically embedded in Nepal’s social fabric. As a result, marginalized communities including Dalits and Indigenous Nepalis bare much of the burden from the country’s political and economic turmoil. According to the Human Development Index, Dalits are the poorest community in Nepal. Over half of Dalits live below the poverty line and 45.5% struggle to make ends meet. Not only are Dalits much poorer than their upper-caste counterparts, but they also have life expectancies and literacy rates below the national average. Dalits routinely lack access to religious sites, face heavy resistance to inter-caste marriages, use separate water sources and suffer many additional forms of discrimination.

Among the Dalit community, women face more violence and marginalization than men. Females are deprived of control over resources such as land, housing, money or education. They are also extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

The centuries-long egregious treatment of the Dalit community in Nepal incited nationwide protests and the “Dalit Lives Matter” movement. To effectively put an end to the violence and oppression of casteism in Nepal, beneficiaries of that system–wealthy upper-caste Hindus in Nepal–must use their privilege to uplift and liberate the Dalit community.

– Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in NepalNepal, a landlocked country in South Western Asia, is one of the few places in the world where rates of child marriage are not slowing. In certain areas, they are increasing. Although child marriage in Nepal has been illegal for over fifty years, 40% of Nepalese women between the ages of 20 and 24 were illegally married before their eighteenth birthday. Young boys are equally at risk. The number of child grooms is disproportionately high when compared to the rest of the world.

Contributions to Child Marriage in Nepal

Several factors contribute to child marriage in developing countries. Nepal has a patriarchal society that values girls significantly less than boys. Limited access to education and a negative outlook towards a sexual expression motivates adolescents to marry early. The most massive motivator, however, is poverty. Countries with a higher percentage of the population living on under $1.90 per day, including Nepal, frequently experience higher rates of child marriage. Poverty correlates to the high rates of child marriage in Nepal, including dowries and financial benefits, economic hardship of schooling and “love marriages” to escape poverty.

The Struggle with Poverty

Although rates have decreased over the past few years, Nepal continues to struggle with poverty. While poverty in Nepal has reduced from 15% to 8% in the last decade, the country remains one of the most impoverished in Asia and ranks 147th on the Human Development Index. Nepal is mostly made up of a landscape dominated by mountains. Being rural makes development difficult. The country also struggles with rapid population growth, political instability and a growing wealth gap between the very rich and the very poor. They all contribute to a high poverty rate.

Considering the Financial Reasons

Nepalese families often arrange marriages for their children for financial reasons. Girls who live under the poverty line are more likely to enter a child marriage in Nepal than girls who do not. This dilemma is due to the concept of a dowry. A bride’s family will provide the groom’s family with money or gifts to establish the marriage. Dowries increase the societal value of boys who receive them. They decrease the value of girls whose families must pay. Impoverished families rely on dowries as a source of income, incentivizing them to marry their sons, especially at young ages. In some areas in Southern Nepal, the dowry increases with the age of the bride. This motivates families to arrange marriages for their daughters quickly and early.

Additionally, many married girls stop attending school to care for their husband and start a family. Tuition and materials are costly, and keeping girls in school creates a financial strain on families. This strain is relieved when a match leads to an established marriage.

Escaping Poverty

Child marriage also functions as a means to escape poverty. ‘Love marriages,’ or those not sanctioned by parents, are also common in impoverished Nepal. Young girls and boys often establish ‘love marriages’ as a way to leave their families. This can be done for many reasons, yet a common one is poverty. Matches form quickly to escape impoverished homes and enter a more secure situation.

The Nepalese government has implemented some strategies to decrease the high rates of child marriage in Nepal. The country recently increased their minimum legal marrying age to 20. Families who kept their daughters in school instead of arranging a wedding for them received cash incentives and bicycles in January 2019. Nepal has promised to eradicate child marriage by the year 2030. Although it is a daunting task, it is incredibly crucial for the health and wellbeing of Nepalese girls.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Solar Technology Alleviating PovertyGivePower, founded in 2013 by Hayes Barnard, is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to use solar technology in alleviating poverty worldwide. The United Nations reports that, as of 2019, “over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.” These water-related stress levels are expected to rise with increased population growth and global economic development. Ultimately, yielding a rise in poverty.

Solar Technology: A Solution to Poverty

Solar technology presents a solution to this growing, global, water crisis. This is because solar technology holds the power to supply clean water and efficient energy systems to communities located in virtually any part of the world. Since 2013, GivePower has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries gain access to a source of clean, renewable and resilient energy. This has in turn allowed for more readily available, clean drinking water, agricultural production and self-sustaining communities. For example, in 2018 alone, GivePower granted access to clean water, electricity and food to more than 30,000 people in five countries. Since its founding, GivePower has completed projects in the following six countries:

  1. Nicaragua: Though education through the primary stages is mandatory for Nicaraguans, school enrollment numbers are low. During its first-ever, solar microgrid installation in 2014, GivePower, recognized the importance of education. In this vein, GivePower shifted its resources toward powering a school in El Islote, Nicaragua. The school’s enrollment has improved tremendously, now offering classes and resources for both children and adults.
  2. Nepal: In Nepal, access to electricity has increased by nearly 10% for the entire Nepalese population, since GivePower began installing solar microgrids in 2015. Installation occurred throughout various parts of the country. Rural villages now have access to electricity — allowing schools, businesses, healthcare services, agricultural production and other forms of technology to prosper. Part of GivePower’s work in Nepal includes installing a 6kW microgrid on a medical clinic in a rural community, ensuring essential services.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): During 2016, the GivePower team reached the DRC, where civil war has ended in a struggle for both people and the country’s wildlife. The DRC is home to many of the world’s endangered species, making protection of the country’s wildlife essential. GivePower has successfully installed solar panels for ranger stations in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. In this way, wildlife thrives. This power provides a means for rangers to meet their basic needs and increases the likelihood that rangers can protect wildlife.
  4. Puerto Rico: In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful category four hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico. The disaster left many without shelter, food, power or clean water for months. GivePower intervened, installing solar microgrids and reaching more than 23,000 people. The organization provided individual water purification systems to families without access to clean drinking water and installed solar microgrids. In this effort, the main goals were to restore and encourage more disaster relief, emergency and medical services. Furthermore, the refrigeration of food and medication and the continuation of educational services were paramount in these efforts.
  5. Kenya: Typically, only about 41% of Kenyans have access to clean water for fulfilling basic human needs. Notably, about 9.4 million Kenyans drink directly from contaminated surface water. During 2018, using solar technology in alleviating poverty, GivePower provided electricity to Kenyans living in Kiunga. Moreover, GivePower also increased access to clean water through a large-scale, microgrid water desalination farm. The water farm provides clean water for about 35,000 Kenyans, daily. The organization has also reached the Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory located in Samburu, Kenya. There, GivePower installed solar panels to ensure refrigeration and communications at the conservatory.
  6. Colombia: In 2019, GivePower installed solar microgrids in Colombia to preserve one of the country’s most famous cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the microgrids helped to support research conducted in the area. The grids installed have been able to sustain a 100-acre research field and cold storage units.

Solar Technology Alleviating Poverty: Today and Tomorrow

Renewable, clean and resilient energy has granted many populations the ability to innovate. In this way, other basic, yet vital human needs are met. Using solar technology alone in alleviating poverty has been enough to create water farms that provide clean water to thousands. With water and energy for innovation — agricultural production flourishes. This, in turn, addresses hunger issues while also working toward economic development. Having already touched the lives of more than 400,000 people, GivePower and solar technology present a promising solution in alleviating global poverty.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s rural communitiesNepal’s economy is heavily reliant on farming and livestock, with 65% of the population engaging in these industries. This sector accounts for around 35% of the country’s GDP. However, many of Nepal’s rural communities that comprise the backbone of this sector still face poverty and food insecurity. Around 27% of Nepalese children under the age of five are underweight. In normal years, Nepal’s rural communities already face many challenges. According to a large sample survey of rural Nepalis, around a quarter of respondents report having to restrict meal portions during the lean season. The lean season is the period between planting and harvesting. Rural incomes dry up during this period.

COVID-19 Related Challenges in Nepal’s Rural Communities

While quarantine and lockdown have been a vital part of curbing the spread of COVID-19, it created challenges for rural Nepalis. A joint research team of the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) and the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility in Kathmandu tracked 2,600 households in rural Nepal before and after the COVID-19 lockdown. The main problem that this study identified is as lean seasons arrive and grain stocks from the last harvest are exhausted. In addition, extended lockdowns could lead to more hunger and push families below the poverty line. Krishna Rana, a rural citizen in Nepal shares, “Forget about nutritious food, it has been hard to manage daily food for us.”

In a normal year, during the lean season, workers are able to travel into the cities for temporary work. However, this isn’t possible during the lockdown. This study found that the total hours in income-generating work for men have decreased by 75% since January. These statistics indicate that the COVID-19 lockdown will have profound economic impacts. Additionally, it could exacerbate cycles of poverty. As Rana’s husband Rajendra Rana says, “There’s no work I can do. It’s been tough to feed nine members in the family and I am the sole breadwinner.”

Relief Measures to Face Nepal’s Agricultural Challenges

The country’s local governments take on the responsibility of supporting Nepal’s rural communities through the pandemic. Local governments have been allocating resources like food to its most vulnerable citizens. However, these local governments express the need for additional support. As Dhan Bahadur Thapa, Chairman of Beldandi Rural Municipality says, “We lack proper resources, and the support from the non-government agencies have been very essential; through the help of them we are trying our best to feed our people.”

NGOs That Help Assist The Governmental Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. The International Institute for Environment and Development: The International Institute for Environment and Development is a policy and action research organization. It has been leading an initiative called “Empowering Producers in Commercial Agriculture” in Nepal. This project began in 2018. In addition, it centered around finding ways to empower rural communities both economically and socio-legally. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the research framework of this project has been instrumental in helping local governments locate the rural communities most in need.
  2. DanChurchAid (DCA): DCA provides roughly 21 million Nepalese rupees worth of support for approximately 25000 individuals. This amount supports about 4,132 families. One of the specific aims of the DCA’s COVID-19 aid programs is to target pregnant and lactating mothers. Hunger and malnutrition can result in difficulty in producing milk and sustaining a child. Thus, these mothers are especially at risk to be affected by the pandemic lockdown. So far, around 105 of these mothers receive special aid packages with nutritious meals in addition to the regular food aid.
  3. Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS): The NRCS has assisted in the response to food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August 18, the NRCS distributes a total of 17,933 meals.

With the support of NGOs, it is the hope that Nepal’s rural communities will be able to sustain themselves through the COVID-19 pandemic. Consistent food and resource support will ensure that these communities do not face food insecurity and further poverty. It is essential that these rural communities are aided so they can continue to sustain themselves through farming and livestock rearing in the future.

Antoinette Fang
Photo: Flickr

Obstetric Fistula in Nepal
Many women in Nepal are shunned for obstetric fistula, even though they are completely preventable holes in the birth canal. One woman, Dhani Devi Mukhiya, recalls what the villagers in her community told her. They said it was “punishment for a sin” she committed in a previous life. Her relatives ignored her in public and her husband threatened to take a new wife. Unfortunately, this is the story for many women who suffer from obstetric fistula in Nepal, especially in rural areas. Both their communities and families shun them. However, one campaign is working to give them back the lives that have been taken away from them as a result.

What is an Obstetric Fistula?

An obstetric fistula is a small hole in the birth canal that leads to incontinence. The injury often results from childbirth complications, with high frequency in adolescent pregnancies. If left untreated, the hole can cause an infection, pain and depression resulting from severe shunning and social isolation. Obstetric fistula in Nepal is common because of high rates of child marriages, poverty and lack of access to care. The mountainous geography and rough travel conditions prevent many people from receiving the health services they need, as it is difficult to get to a hospital. more than 2 million marginalized women across the globe suffer from this complication. These women include child brides, those without access to money and those without access to maternal services.

Is it Preventable and Treatable?

Obstetric fistula has been practically eliminated in industrialized nations because of how easy they are to prevent and treat with access to maternal care. The main problem is that Nepalese women still lack sexual and reproductive health information and services. Due to this, 4,300 women live with obstetric fistula in Nepal, and there are 200-400 new cases each year. This statistic may not even be accurate; obstetric fistula in Nepal often goes unreported due to its high stigmatization.

The Good News About the Issue

This is the good news: the Campaign to End Fistula is actively working to give these women back their lives. Established in 2010, this program, supported by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), provides surgery and post-op care for women in rural Nepal. The surgeries take place at B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, the only public, high-tech hospital in the region. Now, it is an obstetric fistula training center.

To these women, the surgery on offer is not just a surgery. It is a life without pain, a life without stigma and a life without isolation; it was like “walking out of prison” for Ms. Rajdhobi. The program resulted in the performance of 487 surgeries since 2012, and the issue is gaining awareness. Because of the efforts of the Campaign to End Fistula, May 23 is now celebrated as the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula in Nepal. The Campaign together with UNFPA has helped the world to recognize obstetric fistula as a public health issue and has enabled numerous advocacy programs. It will take time to end the stigma surrounding obstetric fistula, but great strides have been made.

Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

H2O in Nepal
Margot Krasojevic Architecture will be responsible for a device that has the capability of extracting water in Nepal from clouds and store it for later use. Importantly, due to humidity and a landscape that is copious with mountain ranges and hilltops — this region of Asia would benefit greatly from water irrigation. The clouds that naturally form in the region will allow for a maximum of 5,000 liters of water production per day. This water, in turn, will be held in a water reservoir.

Water Irrigation and Reservoirs

The majority of the potential 5,000 liters of excess water in Nepal will likely serve to water tea and other crops. About 70% of all freshwater that is taken from the source is used for growing crops. Notably, a negative aspect of relying on water irrigation to feed crops is that, compared with water for in-home use, only 50% of the water returns to a natural water source. The remaining 50% — farmers/workers lose through leaking pipes or evaporation from watered plants. This stands in stark contrast when looking at in-home (and business) water use — where 90% can return to natural water supplies through sinks and toilets.

The potential (daily) 5,000 liters of cloud water that would be used for irrigation will be held in a man-made lake, known as a reservoir. Reservoirs are used when there is not enough rain flow for water to naturally hydrate vegetation. The water stored in this advanced, cloud-water, irrigation system should have a protective covering and cleaning mechanisms inside of it, to protect water from evaporation and accumulated sediment buildup.

The Commissioning of Margot Krasojevic Architecture

Having a well-functioning, cloud-water irrigator with minimal evaporation and sediment buildup will benefit the 6.1% of Nepali citizens who live on less than $1.90 per day. The process to draft worthy architects for the project included informing architects of what was expected and then choosing between various concept designs. The concept design turns into more complex scale drawings and ends with a finished structure.

The finished structure used to obtain water in Nepal will include landscape-inspired contours and solar power. In that same vein, this architecture firm has a plethora of environmentally-friendly structures. The founding architect of Margot Krasojevic Architecture, Dr. Margot Krasojevic, believes that other builders should design based on social changes and environmental events of the past as well. Dr. Margot Krasojevic would also like to see the footprint of modern technology in building designs.

Dr. Krasojevic believes that architects should have guidelines for building projects. Project guidelines should incorporate proportions of materials that are renewable and not damaging to the environment. Also, Dr. Krasojevic believes that it would be wise for builders to aid in the preservation of the planet’s limited resources. She sees the potential in extra steps taken to mitigate environmental depredation and resource misuse.

Architects and Project Commissioners: A Joint Effort

As Nepal commissioned this architecture firm to build a sustainable structure, there may be changes/additions needed for the structure. Architects can work hand-in-hand with the commissioners of projects and take feedback and alter projects as necessary. As the leaders look to procure useful water in Nepal, the need for continued supplies of water and interplay between structure and environment may add more dimensional depth to the project. Nepal will positively benefit from this structure and its potential to increase water-security within the country.

DeAndré Robinson
Photo: Pikist

fighting poverty in nepalNepal, a small landlocked country about the size of Iowa, is home to Mount Everest and over 100 ethnic groups speaking 90 languages. However, Nepal, like many developing countries, is also one of the poorest in the world. Many citizens live on about $2,700 a year, and the majority of the population lives in poverty. Fortunately, many organizations are fighting poverty in Nepal. Here are five local groups fighting poverty in Nepal, their home country.

5 Local Groups Fighting Poverty in Nepal

  1. Aasaman Nepal (ASN): A nongovernmental organization, ASN is a strong advocate for social integration, eradicating child labor, and women’s health in over 60 municipalities in Nepal. ASN achieves some of these goals through increasing community awareness and stressing the importance of schools through social mobilization. It has already helped more than 80,000 children with their education. ASN has also been able to secure national and international partnerships with U.N. Women, U.K. Aid and Street Child. Securing these partnership allows ASN to provide quality education and protection to children and marginalized groups like women and the disabled.
  2. Nepal Fertility Care Center (NFCC): This organization first started as an NGO to decrease Nepal’s total fertility rate from six to just over two. NFCC is now an internationally credited organization focused on providing available, accessible and affordable reproductive healthcare across Nepal. It engages with girls in remote areas in efforts to end child marriage, establishes family planning centers and provides free HPV screenings. Given that these are just a few programs undertaken by this organization, NFCC is central to fighting poverty in Nepal.
  3. Community Development Forum (CODEF): CODEF is a leading NGO in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector of Nepal. It has completed over 30 projects in organizing infrastructure for WASH programs critical to the health and safety of the people and the environment. In these projects, CODEF has addressed research, development, implementation and local government accountability across 50 different Village Development Committees (VDCs), districts and surrounding urban areas. This makes it one of many key local organizations fighting poverty in Nepal.
  4. Global Action Nepal (GAN): A social organization, GAN provides comprehensive primary education and health services for all children in Nepal. It has also established over 10 different programs. GAN accomplishes these goals through cooperation with local school districts in establishing management, support and up-skilling strategies. In total, GAN has helped well over 10,000 children and women, thus decreasing poverty in Nepal. GAN also supports other important empowerment initiatives. For example, it provides microcredit for women in agriculture-based programs to support gender equality and financial independence.
  5. X-Pose Nepal: This organization works to end all sexual abuse and exploitation of young girls and women. Currently, gender inequality only furthers poverty in Nepal. To combat this, X-Pose Nepal has organized awareness programs in over 40 schools to educate young women and men about sexual abuse and exploitation. It has also hosted several other training programs, like making reusable sanitary pads for women in remote villages. Its established Charity Shop helps raise money for the cause through painting exhibitions and musical programs done by and for women.

These five local groups are only a fraction of organizations working hard to foster progress in Nepal. Nonetheless, setbacks like the 2015 earthquake and internal political strife have hindered growth in recent years. Many critics of foreign aid deem it useless due to corrupt government, insufficient infrastructure and a supposed lack of initiative. However, this criticism fails to account for the impact of deep-seated cultural conflicts, geography and natural disasters on poverty in Nepal. Critics also fail to recognize local organizations making significant changes in smaller communities throughout Nepal. Despite the country’s internal conflicts and fragile geographical location, these five local groups are valiantly fighting poverty in Nepal.

Mizla Shrestha
Photo: Pikist

chlorhexidine reduces neonatal mortality
Although the neonatal mortality rate across the globe has been consistently decreasing, neonatal death is still common in many regions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annual infant deaths were at an all-time low of 4.1 million deaths in 2017, decreasing from 8.8 million in 1990. However, the death rate in Africa is over six times higher than it is in Europe, illustrating a severe disparity. As such, there is still much more that people can do to lower neonatal mortality rates. One potential solution is chlorhexidine, which reduces neonatal mortality.

How Chlorhexidine Reduces Neonatal Mortality

To combat mortality rates, Save the Children and governments in Nepal and Nigeria have implemented chlorhexidine, an antiseptic found in mouthwash. When used to clean the umbilical cord as soon as possible after birth, chlorhexidine reduces neonatal mortality by preventing infection in newborns, which is among the top drivers of neonatal deaths across the globe. Save the Children and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) partnered to create a chlorhexidine gel to distribute in wrapped pouches. Save the Children noted that this gel “was developed to be suitable for use in high temperatures, useful in sub-Saharan Africa and [South] Asia where the risk of newborn infections is high and temperatures are hot.”

Chlorhexidine gel has become wildly popular in Nepal, where USAID created the Chlorhexidine “Navi” Care Program to distribute chlorhexidine gel. In Nepal, around half of deliveries happen at home, making newborns even more exposed to infection if they are not delivered in a clean environment. In fact, a large majority of deaths in Nepal occur within the first month of life. Moreover, infections cause half of those deaths. In Nepal, chlorhexidine has reduced neonatal mortality by 24% and decreased the rate of infections in newborns by 68%. The Chlorhexidine “Navi” Care program’s objective aims to distribute chlorhexidine gel to all 75 districts of Nepal.

The Lifesaving Effects of Chlorhexidine

Nepal is not the only country to see chlorhexidine reduce neonatal mortality rates. Nigeria, one of the most populous countries in Africa, has also seen success. Its neonatal mortality rate has dropped from 48 deaths per 1,000 births in 2003 to 37 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. According to many estimates, infections cause at least one-third of newborn mortalities in Nigeria. In March 2016, Nigeria created a plan to scale-up the use of chlorhexidine to lower neonatal mortality rates. If this program succeeds, it will save 55,000 infants. Although this scaling up program started slowly, the Nigerian government has committed to continuing the use of chlorhexidine to prevent infection and fatalities. To do so, it has a plan in place to help local governments achieve their goals.

Across the globe, there are large imbalances in neonatal mortality rates. Countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia have a much higher neonatal death rate than countries such as Australia, Canada or China. In developing countries where poverty rates are higher, neonatal death skyrockets due to a lack of resources. This simple, cheap and over-the-counter chlorhexidine gel is saving lives across the globe. As chlorhexidine becomes even more accessible to every community, it is hopeful that neonatal deaths will continue to decrease.

Hannah Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Nepal
Just like the rest of the world, COVID-19 is significantly impacting Nepal. With an actual existing poverty rate of 25.2% and low literacy rates of 75.1% for males and a 57.4% rate for females, the pandemic has further challenged Nepal through forced school closings and shortages of necessary household items. In particular, period poverty in Nepal has become a dilemma for many Nepalese women and girls. The lack of access to menstrual sanitary products as well as the cultural stigma of chhaupadi, an outdated tradition of isolating menstruating women and prohibiting them from touching others and communal objects, combine to make period poverty in Nepal a pressing issue for women.

The Problem: Existing Stigmas and Disparities

The Nepali government technically outlawed chhaupadi in 2005; however, 18 women died because of chhaupadi since this policy’s creation. Additionally, a 2019 study found that 77% of west-central Nepali girls had undergone menstrual exile. In the context of the pandemic, discriminatory ideals are on the rise. Many fear that contact with menstruating women increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. Traditionally, a majority of girls receive menstrual hygiene products from schools. Without access to school due to the pandemic lockdown, however, many Nepalese girls have been deprived of essential resources like tampons. These closings increased demand for sanitary products in retail stores, causing many businesses to deplete their inventories following the announcement of quarantine quickly.

This deficiency forced women to begin relying on unhygienic alternatives such as old pieces of clothes and even leaves to manage their periods. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, roughly 83% of women used alternate forms of hygiene rather than a sanitary pad, while only 15% used actual hygienic pads. Furthermore, 47% of girls admitted to missing school because of menstruation. The use of these unhygienic methods increases the risk of reproductive tract infections as well as cervical cancer. Around 77% of young girls claimed that, due to hygiene products’ lack of accessibility and affordability, they resorted to making their pads.  The financial difficulties that COVID-19 has created have only exacerbated the inability to purchase sanitary pads.

Organizations Helping to Overcome Period Poverty in Nepal

Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) is pouring its efforts into combating period poverty in Nepal by educating young girls on how to make reusable, hygienic and sanitary pads. VSO initiated a program called Sisters for Sisters that paired young Nepali girls with mentors. Before the pandemic, this mentorship program had informed 2,000 girls on how to construct their sanitary pads. These pads can last up to five years, making this solution appealing to the majority of Nepali families. The Sisters for Sisters program has also focused on debunking discriminatory menstruation ideology.

Action Aid is another organization working to combat period poverty in Nepal. This organization distributes sanitary menstrual kits following emergencies or disasters, with a commitment to helping every woman and girl manage their periods safely. The organization’s efforts to tackle period poverty include various tactics. Similar to the Sisters for Sisters campaign, Action Aid trains girls to make their reusable sanitary pads. It also offers educational services better, informing girls about their periods and how to navigate menstrual cycles healthily. Finally, Action Aid aims to eliminate period shaming ideologies such as chhaupadi in Nepal.

Hope for a Better Future

Period poverty is a continual issue for many impoverished countries with preexisting discriminatory stigmas surrounding the topic, and the pandemic has only amplified these issues. With the help of organizations working to aid women and girls in their communities and eradicate period poverty in Nepal, however, there is hope for a safer and more sanitary future.

– Adelle Tippetts
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Nepal
To women in Nepal, the thought of gender equality and the solidification of women’s rights is difficult to imagine. In Nepal, people discriminate against women socially, legally, culturally and physically. In an interview with thinkEQUAL, a project by the World Bank, a woman in Nepal said that “Women have fewer rights. If there was equality, life would be easier for us.” Here is some information about women’s rights in Nepal.

Poverty and Land Ownership for Women in Nepal

Nepal, home of Mount Everest, is a small country landlocked between China and India. In Nepal, gender inequality exists in marriages, property, menstruation and occupations. It also dramatically contributes to the number of impoverished women living in the country. The number of impoverished people in Nepal has steadily decreased from 25.2% in 2011 to 21.6% in 2018. However, women and men are nowhere near equal in terms of poverty.

The Nepalese constitution provides some protection for female citizens. However, the country has not fully enforced this protection. For instance, in Nepal, only 19.7% of women own land, and of that percentage, only 11% have control over their land. Thus, many Nepalese women’s lives fall into the hands of their husbands or fathers. The concept of owning land is essential to provide and promote women’s rights in Nepal. This is because it encourages men to see women as equals rather than a sexual or monetary object.

Marriage and Labor for Women in Nepal

Oftentimes, because women have little autonomy, their families arrange marriages for them. In Nepal, child marriage is extremely common, with 37% of girls merrying before 18 years of age. The pervasiveness of child marriage further diminishes women’s rights in Nepal. Child marriage reinforces traditionally domestic practices like staying home and taking care of young children. This is because these adolescents are often quick to become pregnant.

Since these young women are busy at home with their children, this leads to great disparities in the workplace. This further contributes to women’s poverty and, at times, a lack of respect and dignity from their male counterparts. In Nepal, the female labor force is less than half of the male labor force. Only 26.3% of women are in the workforce. Additionally, the national gross domestic product leaves out a woman’s unpaid domestic work. This further devalues the work that women perform, and further entrenching the patriarchal ideal Nepal runs on.

Menstruation in Nepal

Perhaps the most common instance of gender inequality in Nepal is the surplus of period poverty. Chhaupadi, a menstrual taboo custom in Nepal and other Asian countries, still exists despite its criminalization in 2017 by the Nepalese government. Chhapaudi occurs during menstruation and has existed for hundreds of years, despite many attempts for the practice to dissolve. The word Chhaupadi comes from a Nepali word that translates to some type of impurity. The practice of Chhaupadi forbids women and girls from staying in their homes. It also forbids them from participating in family or daily activities because they are menstruating.

While they are menstruating, people consider these women toxic. Therefore, they must stay in small huts, sometimes smaller than a closet, far from family members and friends. Rocks and mud typically make up the walls of these huts. The women essentially cannot leave until menstruation is over. Yet, due to the construction of these huts and environmental circumstances, at least one female dies every year from Chhaupadi. Oftentimes, it is due to the cold temperatures, animal attacks or smoke inhalation. During menstruation, women cannot return to their homes. This is because the tradition has made them and their families fear that bad fortune will come to them. Despite the efforts for ending Chhaupadi, the tradition is deeply ingrained in the minds of Nepalese people. As many as 89% of menstruating girls face discrimination.

Organizations Helping Nepalese Women

Despite the traditions and societal structure that dampen women’s rights in Nepal, nonprofit organizations based in the U.S. and abroad are hard at work to save, support and uplift Nepalese women. Organizations like the Women’s Foundation Nepal and Womankind Worldwide are making strides for women in Nepal. As a result of the work Womankind Worldwide has done with other Nepalese-based organizations, the Nepali Congress Party has shifted its focus to female leadership, reserving two seats for Dalit (oppressed) women. Additionally, Womankind Worldwide partnered with the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO). As a result, three Dalit women trained by FEDO joined the Nepalese Dalit Movement.

Through the Women’s Foundation Nepal, community programs have emerged. These programs provide safe shelter and psychological and legal help to victimized women and children. Since 1995, the Women’s Foundation Nepal has run a women’s shelter that currently houses over 70 women and children.

Nepalese women need more changes to ensure their success and welfare. Until then, several organizations have taken a stand. They will continue to foster a safe, comfortable and liveable environment for Nepalese women.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr