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Nepal ‘Bans’ Women From Traveling Abroad Without Familial Consent – Is This Where We Are At In 2021?

Posted: February 19, 2021

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In a patriarchal and restrictive move, Nepal has ‘banned’ the travel of women without familial consent. When will this discrimination end?

According to a report in The Guardian, the women in Nepal are protesting a proposed law. This law bans women under the age of 40 from travelling abroad without the consent of family members or a local ward office.

On 12th February 2021, a women’s march was organised in Kathmandu. This was a part of the ongoing Brihat Nagrik Andolan – a campaign for justice, equity and democracy.

The campaign saw a large number of participants including students and artists. They chanted ‘Justice justice justice!’ in the names of all the victims of violence and called out to put an end to discrimination against women. 

What is the protest all about?

A report in The Kathmandu Times suggests that the proposed law by the Department of Immigration is patriarchal and preposterous. It is a law that makes it mandatory for women under 40 years to take consent from their family to fly abroad on travel visas!

However, the restriction on female migrant workers originated around 35 years ago. That’s when the Government of Nepal imposed a law that said, women, are required to obtain the consent of a ‘guardian’ (parent/husband/any relative) to go for foreign employment. 

In 2012, Nepal enforced a law that banned women under the age of 30  from travelling to the Middle East for work. The ban was a response to several publicised cases of abuse of Nepali domestic workers. This included unpaid wages, gruesome work hours, and in some cases physical or sexual abuse.

However, in 2016, the ban was eventually lifted partially but proper regulations were never formulated to benefit women. And now in 2021, the issue remains the exact same. The only difference being the age restriction which has been increased to 40 years.

Why are women still discriminated against?

Several years of this protectionist mindset towards women migrant labourers has only exposed them to seeking perilous routes to work abroad. This puts them at severe risk of trafficking and exploitation.

Instead of providing them with safer and more stringent measures, the law yet again brings to light the regressive thoughts of the people. Laws like these only deprive them of their basic rights and autonomy over their lives.

According to a report by the Nepali Times, a ban like this removes the urgency to address the root cause of vulnerability. It further promotes pervasive protectionist norms and stigmas that are regressive and more enduring.

A former National Human right commissioner Mohna Ansari, tweeted, “Stop taking decisions for women. The prevalence of patriarchal mindset /madness may allow you to show your misogynist concerns but controlling women just because you are in power is sheer impiety towards the entire gender, you don’t speak for us, you can’t control us.” She also said the rules would violate “constitutional provisions that guarantee equal and fair treatment of all citizens and call for ending gender-based discrimination.”

Do they not have the right to live their lives their way?

While the abuse of migrant workers, including women, poses serious problems, these policies only make it worse. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the current proposals could “force women into riskier, undocumented employment, increasing the danger of trafficking and abuse.”

Ganguly said the government ‘Should better regulate recruitment agencies, work with destination country governments to put protections in place, and respond effectively to provide protection services when abuses occur.’

According to the annual human trafficking report of the National Human Rights Commission for 2018-19, nearly 35,000 Nepali citizens, (15,000 men, 15,000 women, and 5,000 children were trafficked during the period). This data was compiled when the government ban on Nepali women for taking up housemaid jobs in the Gulf region was still on.

The new proposed law is still a reflection of how the laws are reformed by a deeply rooted patriarchal mindset and society. However, the protest by the women is evidence that today women may not just give up easily on their fundamental rights of living.

Picture credits: Still from Free Press Journal’s YouTube channel

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