Nepal suffered from the civil conflict from 1996 to 2006 as the Communist party of Nepal (so-called Maoist) sought to end the monarchical system that had been in place for 240 years and establish a People’s Republic. The Maoist-party ideology was highly focused upon the structural transformation of the country and had a strong message about women’s empowerment. The conflict brought a dramatic shift in the social, economic, and the political situation of Nepal. In November 2006, the peace agreement was signed, the country then started the post-conflict reconstruction process, such as writing a new constitution, constitution assembly election, state restructuring, and the policy formation.
The Maoist conflict produced multiple gendered effects upon women’s everyday lives. One category of women joined as Maoist combatants in search of equality and empowerment and performed roles equal to men in the war. Another category of women stayed behind when the men fled from the war to the cities or neighbouring countries, and their husbands, fathers or sons were killed, or became rebels or disappeared in the war. Women non-combatants experienced a situation where men’s work shifted onto their shoulders and they performed dual roles; at home and outside.
After the earthquake happened on 25 April 2015 in Nepal, women were impacted in a different way. When men were killed or became disabled, were away, or lost income in the earthquake, women took over men’s roles and responsibilities, such as rescued their family members, searched for the food, accommodation, financial support, jobs, health care, including took care of the children and elderly people. At the same time, women were also involved in a multiple role during post-earthquake settings.
The conflict/post-conflict/disaster period produces gendered effects; thus, gender analysis becomes fundamental during this time to understand how women and men deal with the rapid gender role change in the context of crisis and its aftermath, when there is a certain return to the normal situation.
This thesis is about women and changing gender roles in Nepal. The study traces the gendered effects of the Maoist war and the earthquake on women’s everyday lives. It examines how women experience the impact of the Maoist war and the post-conflict era in relation to shifting gender roles, responsibilities, challenges, and new openings. The thesis then asks similar questions about women affected by the earthquake, that happened while the country was still struggling with post-conflict issues.
Chapter 1 presents the introduction, which offers an overview of the main concern of the thesis and the theoretical perspectives (the sexual division of labour and power, ideology of gender, structural factors, and the role of the policy) that inform it. Chapter 2 outlines the methodology (in-depth interview, focuses group discussion, participant observation, and key informant interview) applied to conduct this study.
Chapter 3 examined how the Maoist conflict in Nepal affected women ex-combatants and non-combatants, looking at changes in gender roles during and after the conflict particularly from the standpoint of livelihood challenges in the post-war period. Major findings indicate that changing gender roles largely depend upon everyday practice of sexual division of labour and power as it evolved during and after the conflict. It also shows that the conflict produced different and contradictory effects on both categories of women who experienced shifts in gender roles. In post-war settings, these changes were partly reversed, and especially ex-combatant women faced severe livelihood challenges and returned to traditional gender roles.
Chapter 4 investigated how the Maoist armed conflict in Nepal was a struggle for the emancipation of women and it particularly looked at how women ex-combatants were engaged with ideas of gender equality and women’s empowerment during the Maoist war and afterwards. It further explores what happens to women’s ideological drive as gender roles ‘shift back’ after the war. The results demonstrate that in the Maoist war women ex-combatants were strongly committed to the Maoist gender ideology and experienced empowerment through this process, as they adopted non-traditional roles and crossed gender as well as caste lines. However, in the post-war, they felt ambivalent empowerment because there was a lack of commitment from the Maoist party to issues of gender equality and at the same time the patriarchal structures continued intact and, in some ways, even strengthened, and women faced multiple exclusions.
Chapter 5 looked at how women ex-combatants experienced the reintegration process in the aftermath of war. The study found that the reintegration programming of Nepal lack gender framework due to which woman encountered a range of challenges in the post-war period. Mainly, the challenges were two-fold: At the societal level; they struggled to gain recognition, and at the family level they negotiated/renegotiated to rebuild relationships and safety-nets.
Chapter 6 investigated what challenges women faced in the wake of the earthquake and how these were related to their gender position. It asks how gender roles changed in relation to the earthquake in Nepal. Findings illustrate that different categories of women faced the effects of earthquake differently, especially with regards to the intersectionality of gender and migration and family composition. The earthquake provided women a window of opportunity to change gender roles. On the other hand, women encountered great difficulties in addressing their everyday needs and experienced gender-based exclusion.
Chapter 7 synthesises the outcomes of the four substantive chapters, discusses the findings, and offers four recommendations for policy implications.