Victoria Ashley, a current Good Shepherd Volunteer in the New York Province writes… “During the second week of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women I attended a forum held to discuss the best approach for addressing the global issue of gender based violence (GBV), specifically in the poverty stricken country of Nepal.
The panelist brought up some interesting facts about Nepal, which gave me a better idea of the country’s political and social state. I learned that currently Nepal’s poverty rates rank 157th out of 187 countries, and has been and continues to face high levels of illiteracy rates (a major factor shown to contribute to gender based violence). These statistics are partially due to the displacement of citizens after the civil war ending in 2006, and lack of true governance for the people. I also learned that many of the cultural traditions and practices of Nepal are rooted in their patriarchal caste system, which still remains a powerful influence on Nepalese society to this day.
Dr. Mary Crawford, a Professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, was one of the panelists leading the discussion on gender based violence in Nepal. She raised the contemporary issue of sex trafficking in this war torn country. Based on her own research and work in Nepal, Dr. Crawford witnessed the extent of gender discrimination and limitations placed on Nepalese women. From this research she wrote the book; Sex Trafficking in South Asia: Telling Maya’s Story, which describes the social construction of trafficking and its destructive and limiting effects on women and girls within the society. To demonstrate the severity of discrimination that is faced by women, Dr. Crawford quoted a Nepal proverb which states; “Educating your daughter is like watering another man’s garden.” I thought that this raised many issues, one being that in Nepal the son’s education is valued above the daughters and secondly, the daughter’s education is not a high priority for those holding power in Nepal. This proverb demonstrated how deeply embedded these problems are within the Nepalese society, and after hearing this it became easier to understand why Nepal currently ranks 113th out of 144th on the UN’s gender equality index.
Dr. Crawford explained that since GBV has been a low priority for the government of Nepal, NGO’s have taken the initiative, leading campaigns to raise awareness and provide support services. However, Dr. Crawford brought up some of the problems that have resulted from these initiatives. In an effort to raise awareness to the issue of sex trafficking, NGO’s unintentionally scared women into staying home from school, in fear of leaving the safety of their own homes. Issues of violations of privacy were also occurring after certain NGO’s inadvertently disclosed private information concerning victims. In trying to provide care and prevent further harm some efforts have only made matters worse for Nepalese women. Noting this in her research, Dr. Crawford concluded that in to avoid these types of problems and successfully deal with the issue of GBV, a localized approach must be taken with attention to individual cases.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Crawford suggested more training and support for NGO staff, insuring greater and professional expertise for in every case. In some cases staff members have received less than 6 months of training. She also pointed out that education is key to intervention, along with providing alternatives to former life styles for women trying to support themselves. She suggested income-generating programs would be an important resource that would provide other options for these women, and a chance to leave their former life styles for good.
After getting a better idea of the bigger picture and understanding the extent of which GBV permeates the Nepalese culture I could really see the importance of the points Dr. Crawford raised. Taking a localized approach to dealing with problems within a society is imperative to creating lasting change. Progress will only come with internal changes gradually made over time, rather than sweeping legislative agenda and support programs that only tackle one aspect of the problem. By getting a better understanding of the culture and the way that it influences women’s lives is the only way to offer unique, supportive services for specific populations. What works well in Nepal may not in Thailand, and vice versa. Dr. Crawford’s discussion was extremely informative and I believe that that raises an important point as well, and I’ll end with this; listening to the voices that offer first-hand accounts is crucial to ending gender based violence. These voices bring insights and perspectives that should be taken back to the table where plans are made and ideas shared, only through that sharing will we continue to connect on a global level and successfully make an impact on gender based violence. “