Protesters attack 'anti-women' charter

Updated: 2015-08-04 07:42

By Agence France-Presse in Kathmandu, Nepal(China Daily)

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Nepal's proposed new constitution has sparked fury from women who say their citizenship, property and other rights are being curtailed by the document designed to draw a line under centuries of inequality.

Lawmakers presented a draft in Parliament in June shortly after bickering political parties struck a historic deal on the long-awaited charter, spurred to negotiation by an earthquake in March that killed more than 8,800 people.

But a series of sometimes violent protests have since hit the impoverished, Himalayan nation, with activists saying the charter has failed to address a string of concerns.

Forty-year-old shop owner Rama Bista says the charter poses a major step back for women in a country that has long favored men.

Bista, who is married to an Indian man living in Nepal, has spent the last four years trying to secure citizenship for her two sons - their legal right under the current Constitution.

"I cannot even speak of some of the things I've been told. They tell me my children are not Nepali, that I should go to my husband's country," Bista said.

But Bista's already tough struggle is set to become impossible under the new charter which bars single parents from passing on their citizenship to their children and additionally says both parents must be Nepalese.

It will overturn a 2006 act that says children are eligible for citizenship as long as one parent is Nepalese.

Activists say the move could leave 1 million people stateless and will disproportionately affect women, who account for the vast majority of single parents in Nepal. Bista says she is anxious about the future for her sons since citizenship is needed to get anything in Nepal from a driving license to a bank account.

The draft also makes it easier for a Nepalese man to confer citizenship on his foreign spouse, while a Nepalese woman needs to be married 15 years to her foreign husband before even being allowed to apply.

Campaigners fear provisions could also be used to prevent Nepalese widows from inheriting property unless stipulated in their deceased husbands' will.

Instead of specifying that daughters can inherit ancestral property, the draft vaguely says "all children". Activists are concerned this could be interpreted as sons and unmarried daughters only - the wording used in the country's civil code.

The draft removes the explicit reference in the current constitution to "sons and daughters".

"The draft dismisses the identity of a woman and reflects our country's patriarchal mindset that seeks to maintain discriminatory practices," said Sapana Pradhan Malla who heads pressure group the Forum for Women, Law and Development.

Campaigners are also concerned the draft will be misused to restrict a woman's right to abortion which was legalized in 2002 in the socially conservative country.

 Protesters attack 'anti-women' charter

Activists protest in Kathmandu, Nepal, in June that having a Nepalese mother should qualify her offspring for citizenship. Women say their citizenship, property and other rights are being curtailed by the proposed constitution. Prakash Mathema / AFP

(China Daily 08/04/2015 page10)