Beyond the State: Social Institutions and the Transformation of Sexual Norms in Nepal
In Nepal, a landmark Supreme Court case in 2007 ushered in a decade of sexual justice reform that culminated in the 2015 constitutional protection for the rights of gender and sexual minorities. However, in a demonstration of the Nepali state’s completely incoherent position on sexual justice, the same document denies women equal access to citizenship and lacks a provision that guarantees same-sex couples and third gender persons equal marriage rights; ultimately reinforcing a patriarchal and heteronormative definition of the family.
The failure to achieve substantive constitutional recognition marks a serious setback for predominantly state-targeted LGBTI activism. It is also an invitation to revisit the merits of state-centred activism and corresponding sexual identity-based rhetoric as a tool for sexual justice in the context of increasing geopolitical polarization over sexual rights (Weiss & Bosia, 2013; Symons & Altman, 2015).
This paper aims to decentre the state and state-targeted activism by looking at the role of social institutions (media, education, and health) in the transmission of sexual norms in Nepal. Based on qualitative interviews, this paper argues that representatives of these social institutions play a critical role in constituting, contesting and, subverting sexual justice in ways that are largely disconnected from current state-centred sexual justice activism. The paper identifies how social institutions transmit sexual norms and the areas where this transmission may correspond or compete with the advancement of sexual justice. The aim of this paper is to provide a basis upon which “alternatives to state-centred configurations of [sexual] justice” can be developed in the context of a deeply ambivalent state (Lind & Keating, 2013).