Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why women should be lawyers :Women’s best defence is legal education

Of Nepal’s total population of around 23 million, about 50 percent are women. And like in many developing countries, the condition of Nepal’s women is not yet satisfactory. From the ancient Kirat dynasty to the present republic, the legacy of women as subordinate has continued. Gender-relations are context specific and are the result of socially constructed, unequal power relations. There is nothing in women’s reproductive responsibilities that should make them subordinate to men. Rather it is the culture which establishes male supremacy and female subordination.

 Various religious texts like the Manusmriti and Naradsmriti assumed women to be objects and excluded them from political and administrative decision making and participation. The first ever codified law, Jayasthiti Malla’s Nyayabikasini (1380), explained that women were created for the sake of bearing offspring. They were not permitted to be witnesses to court cases. Women were deprived of social, political, cultural and legal rights and treated as goods for entertainment. Each revolution felt like the culmination of the misery of women. These times of excitement, swift decisions and countless improvisations turned out to be just dreams. The ugly reality was that whether during the revolt of 1990 or 2007, issues related to women were overlooked, and they remain paralysed in the name of patriarchy, custom and superstition.

Patriarchy is an overwhelming ideology which pervades all aspects of social existence. Male dominated family systems provide very little scope for females to assert their identity. In our own history, the roles of the three queens who ruled during

the Malla dynasty, Debal Devi, Nayab Devi and Rajalla Devi were overshadowed by the influence of patriarchal society. And the bravery shown by Chandraprabhawati, Rajendra Laxmi and Bhrikuti in the war of Nalapani was underappreciated because of their sex. Women’s potential has forever been questioned and their participation resisted.

Pluralism, the essence of democracy, is neglected when women are deprived of participation. Women’s subordination pervades all areas—economic, social, religious, cultural, political and ideological—each of which reinforce each other. As such, efforts to liberate women from oppressive gender relations must be all encompassing. Women’s problems will not be solved by addressing just basic needs. Power relations must also be addressed. Women’s overall socio-political and economic status will improve only by change of gender relations of supremacy and subordination.

Empowerment must be a multi-dimensional process encompassing all aspects of social existence. Legal rights assure equity and equality in access to resources, education and knowledge and provide a consciousness of and a willingness to fight against imbalanced power relations. The best way to empower women is by providing education, particularly legal education. Many women are scared to indulge in the legal profession assuming it to be dangerous and to lower their prospects for marriage as grooms’ families won’t appreciate a lawyer bride. But are women born just to get married? This question forever occupies my mind. The indoctrination of females as delicate from birth, suited to domestic chores like cooking and knitting, prevents many bright minds from pursuing challenging work.

Nepal has recently emerged from armed conflict and is passing through a transition phase. Women have too often been unrecognised victims of the conflict as their access to protection, justice, and equal human rights was limited to begin with. Legal education has emerged as means by which women can cease to be inert and become legally aware. Nepali women, especially poor women, are particularly vulnerable to lost access to critical social services. Legal knowledge helps them overcome these obstacles of injustice and inequality, whilst providing freedom from subordination.

The legal field is universally recognised as one of the most reputed professions.  But the field is dominated by male professionals. Very few women have held top positions, namely Indira Rana as Secretary of Law council, Sharada Shrestha as a judge in the appeal court, Hetauda and Gauri Dhakal as a judge in the Appellate court, Saptari followed by Sharada Bajracharya and Miramaya Khadka. In comparison to men, women still represent just a small slice of professionals in most fields.

Patriarchal society and cultural boundaries have limited women’s upward mobility. The perceived usefulness of educating females is equal to that of watering the neighbours’ plants. Various laws exist for the protection of women like Article 20 of the Interim Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom from discrimination. Article 39 Section 9 of Part 4 says, “the state shall pursue a policy of making special provision for social security for the protection and betterment of single women and the ratification of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) which assures elimination of discrimination against women...” The articles refer to provision of just and equal conditions. But without implementation, these provisions are mere words.

In any profession, a woman has to work even harder to prove her usefulness compared with male competitors. She is already at a disadvantage because of her sex. By pursuing legal education, women effectively can become social engineers. This is the most direct way in which women can fight the obstacles of injustice standing in their way. Female lawyers are best able to understand the problems of women. This is why Mira Dhungana was so able to relate to a client and introduce the concept of marital rape. Had Dhungana’s client seen a male lawyer, the issue may not have been documented or taken seriously. So the responsibility is on women to enter the legal profession and equip themselves with access to justice.

Equality and equity are human rights due to women, which they must claim. It is imperative that rising female professionals recognise the roadblocks on their journey. Women must no longer be viewed as objects of development; they must become agents of development. Mahatma Gandhi rightly stated that if a man is educated, a single person becomes educated. But if a woman is educated, a whole family becomes educated. It’s time that women raise their own voices to secure justice. And it’s time that the birth of a female child is a time of happiness.

Aakriti Raymajhi
Rayamajhi is pursuing an L.L.B. at Kathmandu School of Law

source:ekantipur,23 feb 2011