As I try to understand the Draft Constitution of Nepal (as tabled by the Constituent Assembly on July 7), I realize how vulnerable I am as a woman in my own country. Clearly, the Constitution is treating me as a ‘second class citizen’ just because I am born a girl.
First- a mother- I have no power to provide citizenship to my own child if I do not have a Nepali husband or a Nepali man who is willing to give his name to my child. Article 12(1) grants citizenship only to children, if both mother ‘AND’ father are Nepalese. Possibly, the Constitution is assuming that a woman will never give birth to a child without a husband. There are still thousands of children born to abandoned or raped mothers; and they do not know who their fathers are. There are many women who do not want their children to be associated with their fathers (for whatever reasons), or fathers might refuse to recognize their children. This restriction in the provision for citizenship by descent threatens to leave millions of such children stateless.
Second- a wife- I have no power to provide naturalized citizenship to my foreign husband. Article 12 (1) includes another example of discrimination as “foreign women who marry Nepali men will be automatically granted citizenship but the same does not apply to foreign men who marry Nepali women (such husbands have to wait for 15 years to get citizenship). Which means, their children will possibly remain stateless because of “and” clause as described above. Possibly the Constitution is trying to tell me that I am to migrate to my husband’s house after marriage, and my brother ‘brings’ his wife to live with his family. The unequal recognition of women’s husband’s right to naturalization is particularly problematic mainly because of the magnitude of cross border marriages between Nepal and India. If political leaders are so concerned about the open border, then why are children of Nepali daughters a threat, but not those children of a foreign woman married to a Nepali man? It is up to me, as a woman, if I want to migrate to my husband’s house or if my husband wants to migrate to my country- but at least- give me and my foreign husband (and our children) the same choices, benefits and opportunities that are given to my brother and his foreign wife (and their children). (Just a reminder, in America, a foreign spouse immediately receives Green Card as soon as he/ she is married to an American citizen irrespective to the gender).
Third- a daughter- I cannot enjoy the benefit of being my parents’ descendants as my brothers do as the draft is very vague about it (based on my marriage). Article 43 (6) recognises that “couples have equal rights to family property” but the draft is silent on single women’s access to parental property. Tomorrow, if my husband abandons me, I am not sure if I can legally challenge my brothers if they decide not to give me the share of my parental property. It does not matter I am also born to the same parents as they are, as I will have no constitutional rights to access my parental property because I am born a girl.
Fourth- a woman- I cannot decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of my children and to have the information and means to do so. The Draft does not see it important that women have the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health as it has shamelessly curtailed women’s reproductive health rights. It seems to me that the patriarchal drafters only took “married women” into consideration, and regarded women as “baby-making machine” once they are married. It talks about women’s healthy motherhood, but that’s about it. The Draft completely ignores woman’s choice to marry or not marry; her choice of sexual partner; her right to safe sex; and easy access to contraception or family planning. The Draft does not even provide women any right to make decisions about unwanted pregnancies and the number of children women want to have.
The biggest insult to every woman comes in this sentence, “ending all forms of discrimination and oppression created by the feudal, repressive, centralized and unitary state structure.” Shockingly, the draft removes the word “patriarchal” from the preamble, which was in the early draft. Basically, the drafters are either denying that women are affected by patriarchal mindset of our society or they are thinking women can be oppressed as long as patriarchal values and norms allow it. Whatever their reasons are, as a woman, I am offended that these regressive drafters do not value me as a woman.
If law is a reflection of society, then it is high time we tell the Constituent Assembly that we do not endorse their regressive provisions. Possibly you choose to keep quiet because these Articles are not affecting your life today. You have a Nepali husband, your children can get citizenship, you do not want to share your husband’s property with his sisters, and you do not care about your reproductive rights because clearly you do not even know what it is. But this Constitution is not about you and me. It is about our daughters’ future. A group of extremely regressive creators of this draft has outrageously violated Nepal’s previous national and international commitments to women’s rights. It is high time we acknowledge that women are no longer defined by their relationship to men. We have our own identity and it is high time our Constitution (at least) values us as an individual. Let us not allow a patriarchal mind-set prevail and at least, for our own sake, let us not allow the Constitution define our existence based on our relationships with men.