Gender Equality in Nepal

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Flag of Nepal
Population (in Mil.) 27.47
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 19.21
Sex Ratio (m/f) 0.96
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.045454545
Fertility Rate 2.47
Estimated Earned Income (f/m) 0.41
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 5.6
Women in Parliament (in %) 33.2
Human Development Index 157/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 36/86
Gender Inequality Index 157/186
Gender Equity Index 128/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index /128
Global Gender Gap Index /68
More information on variables

Social Institutions

Until the country became a republic in 2008, Nepal was a monarchy, with monarchs exercising absolute power until 1951, when a cabinet system of government was introduced.[1] Further democratic reforms followed in 1991, but this was not enough to avoid an insurgency led by Maoist extremists breaking out in 1996.[2] A civil war raged for the next ten years, and despite elections held successfully in 2008, the political situation remains unstable.[3] Nepal is heavily dependent on tourism for income, and is classed as a low-income country by the World Bank.[4] The Interim Nepalese Constitution of 2007 guarantees all citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, and lists women’s rights as fundamental rights.[5] However, statutory laws that discriminate against women still exist in the areas of property rights and family law, and the constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination against women.[6] In its concluding comments on Nepal’s 2010 submission, the Committee on Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) notes that discriminatory attitudes regarding gender roles remain deeply entrenched in the social, cultural, religious, economic and political institutions and structures of Nepalese society and in the media.[7] Nepalese women have only limited access to education; as a result, they have very few opportunities to engage in activities that would provide a greater degree of economic freedom.[8] In addition, violence against women and early marriage remain pervasive problem, and women remain underrepresented in politics and other positions of leadership, particularly Dalit women and women from other socially marginalised groups.[9] Nepal ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1991, and the Optional Protocol in 2007.[10] Nepal has a Human Development Index score of 0.458 for 2011, placing it in 157th place (out of 187 countries).[11] The country’s Gender Inequality Index rating is 0.558 (113 out of 146 countries).[12] Nepal is ranked in 126th place in the Global Gender Gap Index for 2011, with a score of 0.5888 (where 1 is equal to equality, and 0 to inequality).[13]

Discriminatory Family Code

Recent amendments to the chapter on Marriage in the Country Code have raised the age of marriage to 20 for both sexes.[14] Although the rate of early marriage is declining, there is evidence that it is still practiced widely in Nepal. In 2006, 32.3% of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 10.5% of men.[15] Between 1996 and 2006, the median age of a woman at marriage rose from 16.4 to 17.2.[16] Polygamy is illegal in Nepal and is subject to two months’ imprisonment and a fine, but the law does not invalidate the second marriage itself.[17] The 2006 DHS estimated that 4.4% of married women in Nepal aged 15-49 were living in polygamous marriages, slightly fewer than the figure recorded in the 2001 census (5.7%).[18] The 2010 CEDAW report notes that polygamous marriages, the first wife occupies a very low status in the family, leaving her more vulnerable to domestic violence than second wives.[19] Legally, parental authority rests with both parents. However, according to a 2003 CEDAW report, “the conventional assumptions on women’s role and position have not changed very much in Nepal. Traditionally, women are supposed to hold an inferior position at home and in the society. Their primary role is to take care of the children and perform household work.’’[20] However, in child custody cases following divorce, changes to the Country Code Chapter on Marriage mean that courts now give preference to the mother.[21] Legally, women and men have the same rights to divorce, following amendments to the legislation that had previously made it more difficult for women to obtain a divorce.[22] Under the current interim constitution, Nepalese women have gained the right to pass Nepalese citizenship onto their children.[23] Recent legal amendments have improved inheritance rights for women in Nepal: daughters, widows and divorced women are now recognised as being rightful inheritors of family and ancestral property, and the discriminatory provisions of the Country Code that forced daughters to return property upon marriage has been amended.[24] It is unclear whether the law is being effectively implemented.

Restricted Physical Integrity

For the first time, the Gender Equality Bill of 2006 has redefined the definition of rape to include instances of marital rape, and included it as grounds for divorce, although the maximum penalty for marital rape is still only six months’ imprisonment. This law has also increased the criminal penalties for all other forms of rape to between five and twelve years imprisonment.[25] In 2009 Nepal passed its first law against domestic violence, the Domestic Violence and Punishment Act 2065. However, criminal sanctions are weak. The maximum penalty is 25,000 rupees (US$330) and six months’ imprisonment, punishments that double for repeat offenders.[26] Sexual harassment is a criminal offence, with punishments of a fine of up to 10,000 rupees and prison sentences of up to one year.[27] According to the United States Department of State, the law is poorly enforced, and confusion regarding what constitutes sexual harassment means that few cases are reported.[28] According to the US Department of State human rights report, in the financial year 2009-10, 376 cases of rape and 101 cases of attempted rape were filed in the court, according to the Women's Police Cell, a special unit of the NP that investigates crimes against women.[29] Most rape cases went unreported however. A report by UNFPA notes that women who report sexual violence are often then ostracised for having brought shame onto the family and community, acting as a strong disincentive for women to report sexual assaults.[30] In addition, a culture of perceived impunity for perpetrators of sexual crimes, as well as poor policing in regard to handling rape cases sensitively and professionally are also disincentives.[31]

Accurate data as to the number of women experiencing domestic violence was not available, but anecdotally, prevalence rates are considered to be high.[32] In addition, the police are often unwilling to treat domestic violence as a criminal offence, even though police directives instruct all officers to treat cases of domestic violence as crimes.[33] Police and victims themselves also often fail to pursue prosecution.[34] According to the 2006 DHS, when presented with a list of five reasons why a husband may be justified in beating his wife, 23.2% of women and 20.7% of men agreed with at least one reason.[35] In-depth interviews with a small sample of women by UNFPA found that 25 of the 55 had been beaten by their husbands, and alcohol misuse on the part of the husband was cited as the main trigger for violence.[36] Elsewhere, the US Department of State reports that conflict over unpaid dowries is also a trigger cited in many cases of domestic violence.[37] Among the UNFPA sample, there was also common acceptance of forced marital sex.[38] Women’s rights NGOs were active in providing training to police and government officials on domestic violence, and promoting wider awareness of the issue.[39]

Sexual violence was widely used as a weapon of war by all sides during the 1996-2006 civil conflict in Nepal, while at the same time, the conflict aggravated women’s and girls existing vulnerability to gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual assault and trafficking, according to UNFPA.[40] It is difficult to know exactly how many people were affected by sexual violence during the conflict, but UNFPA notes, in one year of the conflict – 2004 – 1040-1200 women are thought to have been raped, abducted, assaulted or killed.[41] A report by a Spanish think-tank claims that while Maoists were also responsible for sexual violence, in the majority of cases it was perpetrated by government security forces while women accused of having links to the Maoists were in custody or were held up at checkpoints.[42] There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is practised in Nepal. Abortion is available on request in Nepal.[43] Women and men have the right to access contraception, and to access information about different family planning methods.[44] Overall rates of contraceptive knowledge and usage are comparable with neighboring South Asian nations. According to the 2006 DHS, contraceptive knowledge is universal. Among currently married women, 65% report having ever used a modern method of contraception, and 44% report current use.[45] This represents a nearly 20% increase in the number of current users over ten years.[46] However, more than half of married women were not using contraception at the time of the survey. 22% of these women did not intend to use contraception in the future. Of these women, more than two-thirds reported reasons related to infertility as their primary concern.[47] Overall, nearly a quarter of married women reported an unmet need for family planning services. Fifteen percent, concentrated among women aged 20-44, had a strong desire to limit the number of children they bore; the remaining ten percent, falling primarily in the 15-24 age range, wanted to space the births of their children farther apart.[48] However, the level of unmet need has been falling in Nepal steadily over the last ten years as measured by DHS, while the percentage of women whose family planning needs are met has risen consistently. [49]

Son Bias

84.9% of boys and 80.6% of girls under the age of two included in the 2006 DHS had received all their basic vaccinations.[50] According to the 2006 DHS, rates of under-five mortality were roughly the same for girls and boys, with slightly higher rates of infant mortality (i.e. dying between birth and the child’s first birthday) for girls.[51] Rates of malnutrition for girls were also slightly higher.[52] Given that in most contexts, rates for malnutrition and childhood mortality are higher for boys, this would indicate some bias towards sons in regard to early childhood care.

According to a 2003 report by the Understanding Children’s Work project, girls’ (aged 6-14) involvement in paid work outside the home exceeds that of boys by 7 percentage points, while girls’ involvement in household chores exceeds that of boys by 32%.[53] In addition, girls were more likely to be working outside the home and undertaking household chores.[54] This would indicate bias against daughters in regard to the allocation of domestic work, and the expectation that a child will work outside the home.

Primary and secondary enrolment and attendance rates were higher for boys than for girls, according to UNICEF, indicating some bias towards sons in regard to access to education.[55]

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.96.[56] Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups indicates that missing women could still be a problem in Nepal although there appears to be improvement in recent years.

Restricted Resources and Entitlements

The 2006 Gender Equality Bill amended several Nepalese laws to remove discrimination relating women’s property ownership and inheritance rights, but a lack of finances often prevents them from achieving full autonomy. Women make up more than 65% of the agricultural labour force, but the majority work as unpaid workers on family farms.[57] The 2003 CEDAW report concludes that women’s access to land is consequently limited. Women account for only 6% of total landowners and hold a combined share of only 4% of arable land.[58] In Nepal, economic decisions are usually made by the head of the household, but only 15% of families in Nepal are female-headed.[59] Recent amendments to the Country Code of Nepal have improved women’s access to property other than land. Unmarried daughters now have the right to inherit ancestral property irrespective of age, whereas previous conditions required that they be above the age of 35. The CEDAW reports ongoing restrictions in relation to women’s independent use of their property, such as requiring women to receive permission from a male relative before disposing of any immovable property.[60] Women in Nepal have legal access to bank loans and other forms of financial credit, however the 2010 CEDAW report notes that women’s access to institutional credit remains limited, due to lower levels of literacy among women, and bias against women borrowers on the part of banks.[61] The Ministry of Local Development and the Ministry of Agriculture offer loan programmes that target women, and the Contract Act (enacted in 2000) allows women to enter into financial contracts of any form.[62] As of mid-2005 over 400,000 women had been organized into groups for cooperative projects and the disbursement of credit.[63]

Restricted Civil Liberties

There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement,[64] but cultural traditions sometimes dictate a woman’s personal experiences. For example, women belonging to the Tibeto-Burman group enjoy a relatively high degree of freedom of movement, whereas their counterparts in the Indo-Aryan group often face restrictions on their movements outside of the household.[65] Overall, 18.7% of married women aged 15-49 questioned for the 2006 DHS reported that their husbands had the final say as to whether they could travel to visit family and relatives Media and freedom of expression/freedom of association/women’s movements – NOTE ONLY REPORT IF THERE IS A GENDER DIMENSION One area where the government has noticeably improved the situation for women is in the realm of their participation in the political process. The interim Constitution of 2007 mandated that women must comprise 33% of the candidates for the Constituent Assembly.[66] As a result of these new procedures, the number of women represented has skyrocketed from 6% of the total in 2005 to 33.1% at present, or 197 of the 594 seats. Women also hold 6 of 44 seats in the Cabinet.[67]

Nepalese law grants women fifty-two days of paid maternity leave, which is funded by her employer at 100% of her wages.[68] However there are few provisions that protect women from discrimination, and Nepal has not set up the administrative or regulatory structures to enforce the law.[69] Further, the vast majority of working women are employed in the agricultural sector, and thus not covered by existing law.[70]


  1. CIA (2011) The World Factbook: Nepal, online edition, Washington, D.C.: CIA, (accessed 17 November 2011)
  2. BBC (n.d.) ‘Nepal country profile’, BBC news, (accessed 17 November 2011)
  3. Reference 2; CIA (2011) The World Factbook: Nepal, online edition, Washington, D.C.: CIA, (accessed 17 November 2011)
  4. Reference 2; World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Nepal’, Washington, D.C.: World Bank, (accessed 17 November 2011)
  5. Articles 3 and 20 of the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 (2007) in Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2010), pp. 1-2. The new constitution is scheduled to be promulgated by May 28, 2010.
  6. CEDAW (2003), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Nepal, Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/NPL/2-3, CEDAW, New York, NY, pp. 30-31, 38; CEDAW (2011) Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Nepal, CEDAW/C/NPL/CO/4-5, CEDAW, New York, p.3.
  7. CEDAW (2011) Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Nepal, CEDAW/C/NPL/CO/4-5, CEDAW, New York, p.4
  8. Reference 6, p. 21.
  9. See Reference 7, pp.5-6
  10. United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2011): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. - CEDAW: (accessed 15 November 2011) - Optional Protocol: (accessed 15 November 2011)
  11. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012.p.129
  12. Reference 11p.141
  13. World Economic Forum (2010) ‘The Global Gender Gap Index 2010 rankings’, p.11
  14. Reference 14, p. 95.
  15. USAID (2006) Demographic and Household Survey Nepal p.99
  16. Reference 16, p. 102.
  17. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1998), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Nepal, Initial Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/NPL/1, CEDAW, New York, NY, p. 37.
  18. Reference 16, Table 6.3; > Reference 14, p.54
  19. See Reference 14, p.54
  20. Reference 6, p. 14.
  21. See Reference 14, pp.21, 54
  22. Court issued directive order in the case of Shyam Krishna Maskey et. al. v. MoLJPA and others, decided on 2061-10-28 BS (10 Feb. 2005), in CEDAW (2010), p.21
  23. See Reference 14, p.35
  24. An Act to Amend Some Nepalese Acts to Maintain Gender Equality, 2006 amending 11th Amendment to the Country Code in CEDAW (2010), pp. 1, 22-23.
  25. An Act to Amend Some Nepal Acts for Maintaining Gender Equality 2063 (2006), Article 2; in CEDAW (2010), pp. 24, 103; (JICA) 2007, p. 3; Reference 27
  26. The Domestic Violence and Punishment Act 2065, enacted 19 April 2009 in US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nepal, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Washington, DC
  27. Reference 27
  28. Reference 27
  29. See reference 28
  30. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (2007) ‘Priority Areas for Addressing Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Nepal’, Kathmandu: UNFPA Nepal, p.8
  31. See Reference 30, P.8
  32. See Reference 30, p.6-7; See reference 28
  33. See reference 28
  34. US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nepal, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Washington, DC
  35. Reference 16, Tables 14.5.1 and 14.5.2.
  36. See Reference 30, p.6-7
  37. See reference 28
  38. See Reference 30, p.6-7
  39. See reference 28
  40. Villellas Ariño, María (2008) ‘Nepal: a gender view of the armed conflict and the peace process’, Quaderns de Construcció de Pau, No. 4, Barcelona: Escola de Cultura de Pau, p.7; See Reference 30, p.5-6
  41. See Reference 30, p.5
  42. Reference 40, p.7
  43. United Nations (UN) (2011) ‘World Abortion Policies 2011’, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York.
  44. See reference 28
  45. Reference 15, Tables 5.1, 5.2.1, and 5.3.
  46. Reference 15, Table 5.5.
  47. Reference 15, Tables 5.14 and 5.15.
  48. Reference 15, Table 7.4.
  49. Reference 16, p. 117.
  50. Reference 16, Table 11.3
  51. Reference 16, Table 8.3
  52. Reference 16, Table 12.11
  53. Understanding Children’s Work Project (UCW) (2003) ‘Understanding Children’s Work in Nepal Report on child labour’, Rome: Understanding Children’s Work Project, An Inter-Agency Research Cooperation Project, ILO / UNICEF / World Bank, p.17
  54. Reference 53p.17
  55. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (n.d.) ‘Nepal – statistics’, (accessed 17 November 2011
  56. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 5 March 2012.
  57. Reference 6, p. 6.
  58. Reference 6, p. 30.
  59. See Reference 14, p. 81.
  60. See Reference 14, pp. 22-23; Reference 6, p. 12.
  61. See Reference 14, p.53
  62. The Contract Act 2056, enacted 17 June 2000 in CEDAW (2003), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Nepal, Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/NPL/2-3, CEDAW, New York, NY, p. 30.
  63. See Reference 14, p. 82.
  64. See Reference 14, p.53
  65. Laligurans Women Skill Development Centre (n.d.); Reference 6 p. 32.
  66. Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 (2007), Article 63; EC/UN Partnership on Gender Equality for Development and Peace (n.d.); See Reference 14, pp. 44-46.
  67. Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments, IPU: Geneva, ; US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nepal, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Washington, DC.; US Department of State (2008)
  68. International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, ILO: Geneva, Switzerland, accessed 22 March 2010.
  69. US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nepal, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Washington, DC.
  70. Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2007), Nepal: Country Gender Profile, JICA: Kathmandu, Nepal, p. 45.

External Links

Case studies

  • Addressing social exclusion in Nepal (2009 OECD Development Co-operation Report)
  • Support to the Safe Motherhood Programme in Nepal (The original version of this case study was used to demonstrate ownership in the report “Key messages and case studies for the HLF-3 roundtables from the workshop on “Strengthening the development results and impacts of the Paris declaration on aid effectiveness through work on gender equality, social exclusion and human rights”, London, 12-13 March 2008”. It was prepared by the DAC GOVNET’s human rights task team).

The Women, Business and the Law

Where are laws equal for men and women? 

The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.

For detailed information on Nepal, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Nepal


The FAO Gender and Landrights Database 
FAO logo.jpg

The FAO Gender and Landrights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access is one of the major causes for social and gender inequalities in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Six categories

The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:

  • National legal frame
  • International treaties and conventions
  • Customary law
  • Land tenure and related Institutions
  • Civil society organizations
  • Selected Land Related Statistics

For detailed information, please visit the report on Nepalin the FAO Gender and Landrights Database.


External Links

Article Information
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