A few months back, a Tharu woman was burnt alive after being accused of practicing witchcraft. This is just the tip of the iceberg, just one example of how Nepali women have been facing immense discrimination and violent reactions. While some women are being displaced by the government’s development policy, some are victims of different sorts of violence, including domestic violence, as well as brutalities faced as a result of the Maoists insurgency, rape, conflict, economic hardships, poverty and so on. What should be noted here is that the women who are being displaced develop a huge problem of identity construction.
At another level, Nepali women have economic compulsions which compel them to seek a safe ground where they can fend for themselves and their families. They have been gradually migrating to different places in search of employment. And, if we see the past decade, most women have been displaced because of the Maoist war – on one hand because of fear, and on the other, because they had no option but to join the revolution or leave the village.
Socio-economic conditions are a major cause behind women’s displacement in Nepal; however, political factors are equally responsible for this phenomenon. Not only this, women have been marginalized sometimes also because of the market factor. Along with rapid globalization and within the framework of neo-liberalism, the number of displaced people has increased, and the majority of those displaced in this region are women and children.
In refugee determination processes also, they have been undermined or overlooked, and their voices not heard for settlement issues. The impact of globalization on South Asian women has been harsh and unfortunate. Over the past two decades, the implementation of neo-liberal policies has caused immense displacements, giving rise to ‘exclusionary politics’ at the same time. Because of diverse political, economic, social as well cultural dimensions, women in South Asia, including in Nepal, have encountered a plethora of problems.
Based on the economic problem of women, I have tried to examine some of the major causes of displacement of Nepali women over the past decade. They have been displaced both internally and across borders. Economic and political factors are mainly responsible for such dislocation, and the women being displaced have a problem of identity construction that can also be incorporated within the trajectory of contemporary discourse of state restructuring and development discourse.
In the context of neo-liberalism, where rich people become richer and poor become poorer, women are being categorized within the bracket ‘women, displaced and poor’. In Nepal, poverty has also been a ‘categorical identity’, where women and displaced have already been embedded within this identity. However, post-modern/post-structural feminists reject this sort of categorical identity because there is no fixed identity of women. In the contemporary debate regarding the identities of various ethnic groups, Dalits and women, women’s ‘displaced identity’ should also be seen through the perspective of the current political discourse of identity formation in Nepal.
There are both push and pull factors that cause such displacement. Those who migrate or are displaced because of various push factors have been neglected by the society, mainly the state. Knowledge, concerning the categorical representation of women, is shaped by a certain form of power. Seeing it through the theoretical lens, according to Derrida, the center has already been dismantled and there is no subjectivity, therefore, essentialism cannot study the problems of women.
We are living in a world of multiple identities and differences. We should reject universalism as it marginalizes women. The universalizing principle is a medium for further domination of women, and it blocks inclusiveness in state sectors. Every sector in Nepal needs to be reformed. It is often said the media is a more inclusive sphere. However, if look at the media in Nepal, there is a very little presence of women, and they are not given any major responsibility. There is no female editor in any mainstream newspaper.
Liberal feminism is characterized by a belief that women are able to do everything that men can do. Liberal feminists believe that all women should be freed from oppressive gender roles. Some feminists focus on issues of women empowerment and some argue that ‘discriminatory’ laws and policies should be removed so that women can formally compete with men.
Both socio-economic conditions and political factors are responsible for women´s poor identity construct.
In Nepal, some women are forced to migrate to different regions within the country while some move abroad. Thousands of women are working in the Gulf countries, where they have no identity and are like refugees. Moreover, they have to face various kinds of harassments, violence and exploitation, including non-payment of wages/salary, sexual abuse etc. Further, some women are compelled to work at Indian brothels. Similarly, lots of women have been displaced because of different government programs like urban transportation and hydroelectricity, among others
As Nepal pays little attention to development, most women are being displaced mainly because of political and economic reasons. As argued by Lieber and Weisberg, the impact of globalization has been reflected in various parts of people’s everyday life and modernity and mass culture have affected women immensely. This can be a pull factor behind women’s migration. If we see the socio-politico arena of India, even in the post-colonial period, most women have a huge challenge—they are still considered as some kind of ‘refugees’.
In our context, except some well off and ‘mainstream’ women, most women from remote areas do not get any space to demonstrate their competence in public spheres. The gendered job market should be reformed. Although some feminists argue that to address gender inequality, strong and different feminist theories and politics are needed, we need to understand that merely theories cannot transform this patriarchal construction.