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Interview with regional director of UNIFEM South Asia

[Nepal] Chandni Joshi, South Asia regional director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). [Date picture taken: 07/06/2006] Naresh Newar/IRIN
Chandni Joshi, South Asia regional director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
Since the Nepalese monarch King Gyanendra gave up his direct rule in April following mass uprising in Nepal, lack of women in the ongoing peace talks between the country’s new interim government and the Maoist insurgents has been causing serious disturbance among the Nepalese women and girls. Chandni Joshi, South Asia regional director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), spoke to IRIN about the situation of Nepalese women during her visit in the capital, Kathmandu. QUESTION: How do you see the role of women in the ongoing peace process? ANSWER: It is an opportunity for both the peace process and country to have participation of women. If they are not made to participate, it is not a peace process at all. If you look at any country in transition - in Somalia, Rwanda, East Timor, Afghanistan or Sri Lanka - the women are actively involved in non-violent acts and holding the nation together. But whenever it comes to peace processes and reconstruction, women are completely forgotten. We should not let that happen in Nepal. If women - who make up 50 percent of the population - have suffered the same way as Nepalese men, then they have equal responsibilities. It is a failed opportunity for the country not to have women in the process. Q: What is UNIFEM doing to increase women’s participation in peace and political processes? A: Last year we had a meeting with women from 57 districts [Nepal has 75 districts] to talk about their concerns. They came up with a 10-point declaration, which we are making sure that this is now part of the peace process. We met all the political parties last week with the grassroots women to say that we don’t want women to be left out of the large processes. Q: Have the rights of women been strongly advocated in Nepal? A: Whenever you talk about rights of women and laws, you have to consider how much they do get implemented for those you advocate for. We strictly pay attention to awareness and laws among the people, especially the right holders as well as the law enforcement agencies like the lawyers, advocates of justice, judiciary system. But those beneficiaries asking for the rights and laws are the ones who have to be aware of. Training women about their rights is very important. Just a handful of them know what their rights are. The question is how do you get information across to the majority of women in grassroots communities and even those in urban situations who are not mobile. Q: Is the situation still dismal for women in Nepal? A: Recognition of women as part of the society, nation and family is very important. Women are helping to develop our economy. They are bringing in huge remittances by working abroad. They also work in the farms and households. But they are not counted for their contribution. We are not looking at their significant contributions. It is in our own mindset that leads us to think that women cannot lead the nation despite many qualified Nepalese women. There should be a meaningful representation of women in every sector including the peace and political process. The women have the capacity to bring concerns of excluded people, bringing up voices of women who have been vulnerable and exploited. You have to bring in more people who can raise these issues. Q: Why are Nepalese women lagging behind their counterparts in other countries even at South Asian level? A: We are still suffering from the mindset that of discriminating women. There are women going for global meetings, international forums and general assemblies where they make excellent impressions. But why are they not given chances in their own country? At the grassroots ground level, it is the same story. Their roles have been doubling and tripling at both household and community levels due to the difficult situation that the country has gone through. Look at what she has to do even at home front. She is also doing the men’s work. Are we doing anything to change that? If we don’t have the means, information and technology to reduce her time and tragedy, how do you expect women to develop? She needs to sleep. She is the first one to wake up and last one to sleep. She has to feed not only for the family but also the cattle and has to clean the house and cowshed. Q: Did the conflict make it worse for women? A: Man-made or natural disasters have always made women more vulnerable. We go on expecting more and more. That has to change. We have to look at where the gaps are. We cannot just blame illiteracy or poverty for lack of women’s development. There are other issues like discrimination and subordination. There are not merely cultural reasons but social taboos both inside and outside the house. Q: What are UNIFEM’s key priorities? A: In a nutshell, we work for human rights of women and their security. In order to achieve that, we have to look at all international standards and regional bindings that we have been able to agree on. Then, we should look at feminisation of poverty. Our definition of poverty is not just income related but discrimination, subordination and exclusion. We also look at eradicating violence against women, including human trafficking and HIV/AIDS and how you reverse their impact on women and girls. Of course, our larger goal is good governance.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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