EPoD in Nepal: Smart Policy for Women’s Economic Empowerment
In March, Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) conducted a set of activities in Kathmandu, Nepal that included developing a sustainable model for training local bureaucrats to use evidence. The activities culminated in a public program – Smart Policy for Women’s Economic Empowerment – on March 23rd that featured women leaders from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The program inaugurated a two-day event that matched high-level policymakers with international researchers in the region. The goal of the event was to create cross-country comparisons that illuminate ways to prevent exploitation, as well as create opportunities for women to access the kind of power and self-determination that a job can bring.
Speakers: The Honorable Sapana Pradhan Malla, Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhary, and Dr. Swarnim Waglé
Panelist Bimala Rai Paudyal, an academic and experienced Nepali policymaker, listed some reasons behind Nepal’s high rate (80%) of female labor force participation: globalization, laws that increasingly support women’s employment, and the fact that large numbers of men are migrating out of the country to work.
Panelist Dr. Chhavi Rajawat, the elected head of the Village Council of Soda in Rajasthan state, India, explained that women’s perspectives on agricultural labor are not taken into account, even though they do much of the work. Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, the Speaker of Jatiya Sangsad (the National Parliament of Bangladesh), provided data in her address at the event: “Women produce 60 to 80% of food, and play a major role in preventing food insecurity. Yet, women farmers are often invisible.”
Fauzia Viqar, who serves as the first Chairperson of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women in Pakistan, highlighted the challenges Pakistani women face when entering the workforce: few safe transportation options and stigmas that keep educated women out of jobs, even as 60% of medical graduates are female. However, she cautioned against misinterpreting data. While the numbers show low female car ownership and few loans issued to women in Pakistan, this may mask the fact that wives have their husbands sign the dotted line in administrative processes unfriendly to women.
It will be difficult to change the traditions that dictate that South Asian women bear more responsibility for household and family labor while men move freely in public spaces. However, Charity Troyer Moore, EPoD’s India Research Director, said that one should not assume that such norms are immutable, and pointed to policies that can “shift the cultural factors surrounding women’s economic engagement.” This event highlighted the many potential benefits of policies that help women enter the workplace. When women make their own money—or even when they have the option to work for a fair wage—their health, power in the domestic sphere, and position in society all improve, and parents begin to invest more in the health and education of their daughters.
Several participants shared success stories from their countries. The Honorable Sapana Pradhan Malla, a jurist before the Supreme Court of Nepal, charted the 12-year evolution of laws granting property rights to Nepali women, and Viqar mentioned similar advances in Pakistan. Rubana Huq, managing director of a group with 8,000 female employees in Bangladesh, described the policies that have opened the country’s garment industry to women. Comparing the situation today to that before the boom in the garment industry, Huq said, “In general if you look at the lives that the workers have, they’re far better than Bangladesh would have ever imagined.”