Nepal's Widows Reject Govt's Remarriage Proposal

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nepali widows and their advocates are pushing back at a government proposal to pay engaged couples for a widow's remarriage. Not only is the law like a new form of dowry, they say, many widows feel better off staying single and earning their own incomes.

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Satyal now works with Women for Human Rights in the Single Women Entrepreneur Group preparing catered lunches for sale. She said she earns enough to support herself and her 10-year-old daughter, as well as to help her in-laws and their small farm.

The elderly couple, who Satyal said stigmatized her after her husband's death, have since come to live with her instead of their remaining son because she can better provide for them.

Dale Davis, Nepal project director for the Centre for Development and Population Activities, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to improve the lives of women and girls in the developing world, said that after marriage traditionally Nepali women move into their husband's homes, becoming part of his family.

Arranged Marriages a Factor

In a country where arranged marriages are still the norm, it is not customary to secure another marriage if a woman's husband dies, Davis said.

She reiterated Thapa's observation that for many single women the practical challenges of caring for children and insuring their livelihoods--not remarriage--are paramount concerns, especially for less affluent or poorly educated village women.

"Now that they have lost their breadwinner," she said in a telephone interview, "survival is the most important issue."

Satyal said she hoped a government proposal to assist widows would focus more on their children.

"I thought they would bring something beneficial to my children," she said. "I felt the policy commodified single women and tagged them with 50,000 rupees. Is my price only 50,000 rupees?"

Renu Sharma, president and founder of the Kathmandu-based Women's Foundation of Nepal, a nonprofit advocacy group formed in 1988, said that with job opportunities single women will have better chances of rebuilding their lives and overcoming cultural discrimination. Her organization currently houses 20 single women in its shelter for victims of violence.

"If women are skillful, can get a job and be independent, then society will accept her," Sharma said in a recent telephone interview.

For some women, however, remarriage is beside the point. What matters more is earning broad social recognition that even as single women they are equal, capable and free to live their lives as they wish.

"Marriage is not the only thing," said Rekha Subedi, 31, another member of the Single Women Entrepreneur Group. "Even by living single we can do something by ourselves.

Danielle Shapiro is a freelance journalist based in New York City.

For more information:

Women for Human Rights, single women group

The Women's Foundation of Nepal

Centre for Development and Population Activities

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