It wasn’t that I was unaware that women here undergo a great deal of discrimination and denial of basic human rights. Its just that the label “single women” to me just meant unmarried. I had noticed signs all around the city using the “single women” term, but it was only when I became aware of how shameful the word “widow” is in Nepal (and how difficult their lives are), that I began to understand how using the phrase “single women” had become a positive attempt at creating an all encompassing term for unmarried, widowed, separated and divorced women.
Through awareness raising and lobbying, womens’ groups are battling to achieve changes in discriminatory laws against single women. Piece-by-piece that are making changes to the law, but there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination against widows here is deep-rooted, and I was also surprised to learn that it cuts across all castes, religions and categories of society. A woman from an educated, middle-class family can still be as vulnerable as one from a poor, rural one.
However, things are slowly changing: Now the law says that the property of deceased husband does not need to be returned after remarriage. A widow no longer needs to be 35 years to inherit deceased husband’s property. Male consent is no longer required while acquiring a passport and citizenship.
Through the efforts of groups like Women for Human Rights, widows are increasingly aware of their rights and WHR works to increase their skills, and social and economic status. Job creation programs teach women how to start their own businesses and learn to be financially independent. I’m hopeful that things will change dramatically for the next generation of Nepali women, but sometimes — looking at the size and extent of the problem —that feels like a long way off.