Journalists and activists including Namrata Sharma met in Jakarta recently to discuss gender discrimination.

“My alcoholic father used to beat me and my mother, and I always protected my mother. After treatment my father is sober now, but my mother has started scolding me and makes me do all the household chores, giving me very little time to study,” says Sarita from a remote village in  Banke district of western Nepal. But Sarita may as well be in Indonesia, Europe or North America.

Gender discrimination is pervasive and widespread, and the problem is the same all over the world, as we heard from activists and investigative journalists from 15 countries at a recent interaction in Jakarta.

Read also:

3/4th of the sky, Editorial

Nepal’s better halves, Anil Chitrakar

After the end of the Suharto regime, an Indonesian participant said, the economy improved, but gender-based discrimination and violence were still prevalent in both urban and rural areas. Women still bore the brunt of patriarchal taboos, making it difficult for them to reach the top of their professions, earn better salaries, and upgrade living standards. Most agreed that there had been progress in amending existing laws and formulating new ones to end discrimination, but the violence itself had not abated.

Cases of rape and incest are reported every day from all over the world, in both developed and developing countries. In Nepal, 20 cases were reported by Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) Nepal during a 16-day campaign against Violence Against Women in 2018, majority of them involved rape of minor girls by relatives or neighbours.

International Women’s Day draws attention worldwide to a global problem, in rich and poor, East and West. The women’s movement has achieved great progress when it comes to amending and promulgating laws and in creating mechanisms to hold countries accountable for injustice. In the last few years new movements have allowed women to speak out more boldly against sexual harassment in the workplace through the #Metoo movement.

“For me International Women's Day (IWD) 2019 is a precious moment and a safe space where women are inspired to talk about their stories through protests and artwork,” says Meggy Katigbak of Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development. However, she acknowledges that there is discrimination even among women by race, class, colour, and other factors.

“Liberal feminists who focus on identity politics do not fully understand or appreciate that it the intersects with the struggles of other women,” she adds.

But ironically, despite the popularity of International Women's Day, the situation of most women is still the same as on the day women garment workers first gathered to protest in 1908 in New York. Many countries now have rules that allow women to assert their rights, but many like Sarita in Nepal do not have the means to raise their voice against discrimination they face on a daily basis.

The 2019 campaign theme for International Women's Day is #BetterforBalance, with the message of improving gender balance for a better world. Though there are more women in different professions today, at least 33% is needed to make it a critical mass, and women have not reached that number in most professions and decision making positions.

Nepal marks International Women's Day with a government holiday, but that is barely enough to address many gender issues prevalent here. According to the 2016 World Economic Forum report, Nepal ranks 110th out of 144 countries in gender parity, and UN Women ranks Nepal 110th out of 145 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index. According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey report of Government of Nepal, the number of employed women in 2016 is only 68% as compared to 83% in 2006, and 68% of these women are three times more likely than men to not to be paid for their labour. And Nepal ranks third highest in child marriage in Asia.

In order for victims like Sarita to be able to communicate better and access education, safe shelter and better livelihood, a social revolution is required where the rights of all people are recognised and accepted by society. Having an institutional set-up with proactive laws help, but equally important is empowering women. It is important to recognise that inequality leads to more difficult lives for all. We need to move towards better gender balance for the wellbeing for all.

Namrata Sharma is the Chair of the Centre for Investigative Journalism.