Dalit women in Nepal face a double burden. First, they belong to the so-called ‘untouchable’ caste in a hierarchical system that places them at the bottom of society. Dalits are considered socially impure, and even though laws make it illegal, they regularly face discrimination, public humiliation and severe consequences for standing up for their rights. Secondly, as women in a culture that values and empowers men and boys much more than women and girls, they remain second-class citizens in their own country. Violence is a constant presence in the home and in public, and deep-seated attitudes about the inferiority of women and girls remain the norm in all sectors of society.
Although Dalits make up approximately 14 percent of the population, they are barely represented in government. Out of a total of 83,000 personnel in Nepal’s civil service, only 0.8 percent are Dalits. They hold only 6.6 percent of seats in Parliament. There is only one single Dalit judge. Dalit women’s representation in officer-level government service is virtually non-existent.
Center for Dalit Women Nepal was formed by a group of young Dalit women to address inequality and discrimination by providing a space for Dalit women’s political engagement, development and networking. In its capacity as a registered NGO, CDWN is focused on supporting the political empowerment of Dalit women and marginalized communities nationwide by encouraging and nurturing political leaders, building the skills they need for effective participation and leadership, and increasing their access to decision making at all levels of government.
Until Dalit women and other voiceless people are given not just a seat at the table, but possess the knowledge, skills and confidence to participate effectively in the process, government officials will continue to act with impunity and ignore the rights of marginalized people ensconced in the constitution. Without government accountability the dominant patriarchal order will continue to present a challenge to peace and prosperity.