Need for envisioning a new role for women in a new Nepal

Finn Thilsted, Ambassador of Denmark, Nepal

It is an honour and pleasure to be with you here today for this discussion on “Women and Media in Peace Building”.

I accepted the invitation to participate because the topic of this seminar is of great importance. Peace and equality between women and men are important issues for Nepal and are strong priorities for Danish development assistance to Nepal. The peace process is all about inclusiveness and therefore also about equality between women and men.

That the Nepalese media has a strong role to play in the Peace Building process is obvious for all.

Let me start with the issue of equality.

Women in Nepal are disadvantaged as compared to men. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, Nepal is one of the countries in the world with the largest difference between women and men. The social exclusion of women is present both in the laws of the country and in the traditional practices. The examples are numerous: citizenship, health, work, child marriages, chaupadi and inheritance.

It is promising to see that some changes are taking place. I have the impression that the overall awareness concerning equality between women and men is growing and some initiatives have been taken. A number of bills with good intentions have been passed since the Peace Accord, for example, the Interim Constitution, the 3 year Interim Plan and the Gender Equity Bill. All have good intentions to make changes, but implementation is lacking and the stalemate in the peace process worsens the situation.

Nepal has been torn by conflict for the last 10 years, a conflict that has had severe consequences for the people of this country, not least its women. Wives have become widows, girls have become orphans and women have been victims of violence and rape. The sufferings of women have been great, as I saw recently in the documentary movie, “Sari soldiers”.

Last week, I inaugurated a Safe House for Women in Janakpur and it struck me that I have never heard of a Safe House for Men! I talked with two women that had been gang raped in a village. Justice will most likely never be given to these women and the criminals will never be punished. In Janakpur, the issue of dowry for women is a constant problem and women seek shelter from angry and dissatisfied husbands and in-laws. It is my impression that when men cannot manage, they often take to violence. A wife and her husband must, in my view, be equal, and equality and peace at home are the prerequisites for the creation of a harmonious family and thereby a harmonious society.

It has struck me that in conflicts around the world, it is rarely women who take the initiative to start the fighting or are involved in the fight. I believe this is because women by nature are peaceful, tolerant and loving. I strongly believe that the peace process in Nepal must include women and must build on the ability of women to solve disagreements through peaceful means. Participation of women is a crucial point in building a peaceful and inclusive society.

Many Nepalese women have made great contributions to the Nepalese society. Their efforts are through women’s movements, local community engagement and non-governmental organizations dealing with health, agriculture, forestry, HIV/AIDS, trafficking and many other areas. The people of Nepal, as well as the government, must acknowledge these, often voluntary, efforts and contributions to the development of Nepal. It is therefore difficult to understand why female participation in government, political and other public bodies are lacking.

There is a need for envisioning a new role for women in a new Nepal.

I would like to end my talk by pointing out the important role of the Nepalese media in the peace process and creating a new Nepal. A democratic society needs a free and critical press that gives voice to women and men on an equal basis. Modern media gives the possibility of mass communication. In a modern democracy, the media uses this form of communication to present the wishes of the people to the politicians and to document the actions of the politicians to the people. Media thus plays a significant role in the creation of public opinion. With this important role, follows responsibility – a responsibility of giving information which is inclusive and balanced.  The media must be active in supporting the inclusion of women in a new Nepal. The media must catch the momentum for change in the Nepalese society and take the lead in breaking down deep-rooted stereotype roles for women and men. In this process the media must be very conscious about letting female voices be heard.

I hope we will have a fruitful and constructive seminar this afternoon.
[Speech Delivered by H.E. Finn Thilsted at a Telegraph-FES Seminar on "Women and Media in Peace Building", held in Kathmandu on 19th December, 2007]

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