Rural Women and Natural Resources in Nepal: Women's Roles in Survival versus Hegemonies: The Use of Natural Resources Is Essential to Everyone and Is a Basic Human Needs Especially to Those Living in Rural Environments. for People Denied Such Access, Life Is a Matter of Survival, Many Survive at the Cost of Extreme Dependence on Those Who Have Access

Article excerpt

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Such is the case of Nepal, a landlocked country located between China (north) and India (south, east, west). It has a population of 28,901,790 (July 2007 est.) and a total land area of 147,181 square kilometres. (1) While Nepal consists of unlimited natural resources such as water, timber, hydropower, and scenic beauty, it has an extremely fragile environment. It is often affected by severe flooding, landslides, anti famine and faces environmental problems such as deforestation because of an overuse of wood for fuel. These often have negative impacts on people in rural areas who depend highly on nature for their survival. It must be noted that the majority of people, especially those in the rural areas, depend on land and agriculture as an economic activity.

Practices based on religion and patriarchy inevitably play a role in maintaining social inequalities. The dominant religion is Hinduism which stratifies castes into four: the Brahmin as the highest, Kshatri, Vaisya, and Shudra or Dalit as the lowest/untouchables. Practices leading to gender inequality such as the unequal division of labour based on the patriarchal tradition puts women to work in domestic (reproductive) sphere and men to work in the public (productive) sphere. While women are engaged in completing household chores, bearing and rearing children, taking care of the elderly, providing water and food to family, men often work outside the home--mostly in skilled jobs and/or income generating activities.

Because patriarchal ideologies and religious laws prevail in Nepal, dimensions of identity such as gender, caste, and ethnicity create hegemonic privilege on the use of natural resources. This paper aims to draw attention to the hegemonic politics at the micro level pertaining to the access to natural resources from the women's perspective, and to come up with recommendations. The paper will present examples of how Nepalese rural women ensure their family's survival as they play a vital role in the provision of water and food.

Customary and legal framework

The patriarchal custom of preferring sons over daughters (a discrimination and deprivation on the basis of sex/ gender) starts immediately after birth.

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The right to inheritance and access to property and land are denied to women while the inheritance to son is claimed as a son's birthright. Although a legal bill has been passed as a government initiative in 1997 declaring daughters as co-heirs of the parental properties including land, it has certain biases such as only daughters who remain unmarried until the age of 35 (which represents half of their life since the average Nepalese woman's life span is 57.1 years), (2) can inherit parental properties or land. If they marry later on, then they are to return the properties to their maternal relatives. On the other hand, those who are married have equal right to the ancestral property or land of their husband's side if their husbands are not alive provided that they are 35 years of age or married for at least 15 years. Such a weak and restricted legal framework is not better or worse than the cultural regulatory framework which denies inheritance of properties and land rights to women. They only reinforce patriarchy as these laws are biased and male-centered.

The Hindu caste system custom stratifies Brahmins (highest caste) as high profile people and Dalits (lowest caste) as low profile people. The latter are called pani nachalne jaat (caste from whom water is not accepted) and the water touched by them is considered polluted and unusable; whoever comes into contact with them needs purification. This makes it difficult for Dalits to get access to water-wells and other public natural resources.

Nepal's Constitution of 1990 states that no discrimination shall be made against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe or ideological conviction. …