Autonomy, Gender, and Women’s Suffering in Nepal
Nepali women’s autonomy, agency, and public participation have significantly increased in the last few decades, mainly due to, among many factors, egalitarian laws and men’s absence from home as a result of international labor migration. Yet the suffering of women, who belong to the poor and marginalized communities, has not decreased; For these women, suffering has increased to the extent that their life has reached the point of collapse. Women’s attraction to a faith-based group called Sachchai, which is supposed to heal their suffering, reveals the extent of the women’s suffering. However, their suffering has hardly got attention in both public and academic discourse in Nepal.
What are the key sources of women’s increasing suffering in Nepal at the present? What kind of gender norms and regulations, which are specific to the present social, political, and economic context of Nepal, operates as mechanisms of the suffering? How does caste reinforce the suffering? Based on my Ph.D. dissertation ethnographic fieldwork among Sachchai believers in Pokhara, who are mostly women, my paper investigates and addresses these questions. The paper explains three key sources of women’s suffering: women’s tensions with their husbands; household economic uncertainties and collapses; and women-specific diseases such as those related to uterus, menstruation, and infertility. All these three sources are gendered, more so now than in the past. I will show that in everyday interaction men’s absence at home due to international labor migration has contributed much to the creation of negative image of women as unfaithful, unproductive and lavish and, hence, as a potential agent to spoil marital love, family and society. In contrast, absent men are valorized as faithful, toiling and patriotic person. I will argue that the newer and stricter gender norms and regulations that operate to restrict women’s autonomy, agency, and public participation have exacerbated women’s suffering.