The Challenges of the Indigenous Women’s Movement with CEDAW: Nepal’s Contribution

Despite CEDAW being a mandatory treaty, it has not been implemented in many countries like Nepal. Indigenous Women and girls of Nepal explained in the Second World Conference of Indigenous Women how they are facing serious challenges like internal colonialism, racism, patriarchal ideology, policy and practical issues, which do not allow for the implementation of CEDAW.

Anita Gurung, from Nepal


Nepal women organized one of the six interactive sessions of the Second World Conference of Indigenous Women (2WCIW), the forum on CEDAW: General Recommendations on the Rights of Indigenous Women

Teresa Zapeta, Executive Director of FIMI, opened the interactive session by welcoming all participants and introduced the CEDAW Committee Vice-Chair Nahla Haidar with the expectation to hear from her on the importance of CEDAW and its general recommendations on Indigenous Women and Girls.

Nahla Haidar, Vice Chairperson of CEDAW, shared article No. 39 of CEDAW, which addresses the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. She added that the rights of women contained in the international convention and the entire UN system are the ones to be applied in the context of Indigenous Women and Girls. She elaborated on the objectives and scope of the General Recommendations. 

After Haidar’s presentation, the floor was handed over to the Nepalese team which was moderated by Ritu Thapa Magar. Nepal’s government ratified CEDAW on April 22nd of 1991 and in June of 2007 also ratified CEDAW’s protocol. Indigenous Women of Nepal are putting in the effort to discover and define their space. Indigenous Women of Nepal including girls, Indigenous Women with disabilities,  and the LGBTI community are facing serious challenges like internal colonialism, racism, patriarchal ideology, policy and practical issues, which have not created a favorable environment for the proper implementation of CEDAW. It is also challenging for Indigenous Women to be engaged in the campaign for individual and collective rights in line with the CEDAW provisions because when Indigenous Women and Indigenous Peoples in general talk about their rights, they often face allegations including being insular, disruptive, and antipatriotic, among other characterizations. 

Despite CEDAW being a mandatory treaty, it has not been implemented in Nepal. Thus its de facto realization remains as a challenge given that the government has violated the law by failing to act in CEDAW’s timely implementation. Likewise, Indigenous Peoples’ leadership has historically been constrained by the interests of political elites, but rather it is those same Indigenous Leaders that need to exercise their own political advocacy within the political system.  Thus, the challenge remains.

Because Indigenous Women and Men are experiencing colonialism, neo-liberal capitalism, and globalization, it has been challenging to create awareness of the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, self-determination, rights to land, FPIC, customary laws, and Indigenous Knowledge. There has been no meaningful participation and representation of Indigenous Women from the local to national levels. Unawareness among provincial and local governments about CEDAW due to potential ignorance or negligence is also a critical challenge.  Due to the establishment of national parks and hydropower transmission highways, Indigenous Women are often both displaced from their land and their livelihoods are severely impacted. 

In 2018, the CEDAW committee recommended to the Nepal Government that the rights of Indigenous Women have to be in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and accordingly, need to be incorporated through constitutional reform. The report also talks about 15 rights issues out of the 53 recommendations. Finally, it is also challenging for Indigenous Women because CEDAW itself is not in line with UNDRIP. Therefore, many changes and reforms are required.


Government Answer

From the Government, the Ministry of  Women, Children and Senior Citizens, Yam Kumari Khatiwada, highlighted the government initiatives and achievement in implementing CEDAW’s recommendations. She explained the constitutional provision for women’s rights as the right to equality, social justice and security, inheriting property, freedom from gender-based violence, and reproductive health. 

These rights along with fundamental legal provisions consist of at least 33 percent  of women’s participation in all mechanisms of the state, the establishment of the national women’s commission as a constitutional body, affirmative actions taken in health, education, employment, and social security, identity and special provisions for gender and sexual minorities, and equal pay for equal work. 

The gender equality policy for 2021 is expected to become a milestone to internalize women issues and commitments at all levels of the government. The 15th periodic plan under implementation with the objective of a gender-friendly governance system ending all forms of discrimination, violence, and exploitation of women. 

Participation and ensuring access to resources, opportunities, and benefits for women with the specific targets by the end of the periodic plan are necessary. The draft of the Second CEDAW Implementation Action Plan has been finalized. 

Due to legal and institutional reforms, the political representation of women has increased by an encouraging amount. Together, they comprise 33 percent, 34 percent, and 41 percent, respectively, of the federal parliament, provincial assemblies, and local level assemblies. Women comprise nine of out of 16 federal parliamentary committee chairpersons, 90 percent of deputy mayor and vice-chair persons in local governments, and 18 of them are mayors. Likewise, women’s participation in governmental and non-governmental bodies, and the private sector is encouraging.

More than a dozen legal provisions are in implementation to address issues of different gender-based violence and harmful practices in the society. Strong legal provisions have been made to control and penalize acid attacks. Gender-based violence and anti-trafficking rules have been implemented in collaboration with provincial- and local-level governments and civil societies.

While implementing federalization, the internalization of women’s issues has been challenging in part due to a lack of disaggregated data that would allow diagnosing gender disparities across a diverse set of issues. The government is making an effort to address them through institutional and legal reforms.


The need for action

From the National Women Commission in Nepal, the chairperson Kamala Parajuli presented concrete recommendations on the need for action from the government to protect the rights of Indigenous Women in Nepal.

Ms. Parajuli explained that studies have shown that Indigenous Women, particularly due to their sex, have been discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, language, culture, and religion. 

Likewise, due to their limited access to influencing the world’s media, their traditional knowledge and cultural traditions have remained less promoted and not mainstreamed. Conflict, disaster, flooding, and pandemics have also impacted Indigenous Women negatively. Although the state has made provisions to ensure equal participation and representation of all ethnic groups and genders, unfortunately, those policies have not been effectively implemented, a serious concern. The National Women Commission has produced a monitoring report in which Indigenous Women were also involved and the commission is committed to collaborate with all Indigenous Women of Nepal in their future endeavours. 

CEDAW’s importance

Bandana Rana, a member of the UN CEDAW committee, shared the key challenges faced by Indigenous Women when exercising their rights enshrined in International Instruments like CEDAW. 

In her opinion, CEDAW’s conclusions and recommendations are very important to ensure and promote women’s rights by creating awareness among the government and civil society organizations. When it comes to Indigenous Women, there are multiple layers of discrimination, and CEDAW has been bringing up such issues in various dialogues and also have provided necessary recommendations to address them for all concerned. Even then, however, there are challenges getting the issues of Indigenous Women heard: the environment does not allow easy access to information, their traditional rights to ancestral lands are not protected, and there is a lack of access to social services. 

In the context of COVID-19, CEDAW has issued guidance to assess how Indigenous Women are impacted at the global level. CEDAW has also emphasized the importance of maintaining the traditional knowledge and culture of Indigenous Women to foster social harmony. 

While Indigenous Women are disadvantaged globally, the efforts of Nepali Indigenous Women have had greater success at achieving their rights at the local level. However, Yasoo Kanti indicates there is still a need for constitutional reform for enhancing the rights of Indigenous Women in Nepal.  Her message demonstrates the crucial need for including Indigenous Women and their rights in all of CEDAW’s articles.

This session was jointly organized by four organizations: Indigenous Women Federation (NIWF), National Indigenous Women Forum (NIWF), National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN) and Indigenous Women Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG). The theme of the interactive session was  on the implementation of CEDAW in Nepal.