International Research from WISERD’s Civil Society Programme Reveals Gender Equality Challenges in India and Nepal

A new study by Professor Paul Chaney reveals how governments in South Asia are failing to fully engage and respond to civil society organisations’ policy demands on women’s rights and representation.

‘Under the terms of a key United Nations’ agreement of 1995 (globally subscribed to by 180+ states), countries are required to listen and respond to civil society organisations in setting their governing priorities and law-making. World-rankings show how India and Nepal face major gender equality challenges. According to the World Economic Forum Global India is ranked 114th out of 142 states and Nepal is ranked 112th – and the UN Gender Inequality Index ranks the two states 135th and 145th (respectively, out of 187).  Yet, WISERD’s study of practice in both countries (2005-15) reveals that, whilst at a rhetorical level politicians have embraced civil society engagement to promote equality between women and men, the reality is different,’ explains Professor Chaney.

The analysis points to pronounced power differences between government and civil society. Study data show this to be particularly evident in the language used to express policy ideas and the priority given to different policy areas.

Analysis of the reports submitted to the United Nations over the decade to 2015 show that, compared to government, civil society organisations in both countries give more than twice as much weight to addressing the discrimination and the oppression of women.  ‘A further key example of the government-civil society divide is in regard to gender and poverty/ economic inequalities. Civil society organisations in both countries underline how women bear the brunt of poverty. Again, compared to government, they give more than twice as much weight to addressing this issue,’ continues Professor Chaney.

‘One Indian civil society organisation cited in the study captured the ongoing malaise by referring to how: ‘culture and religion are entrenched in behavioural patterns and mental attitudes, which are exacerbated by stereotyping the economic and social roles of women and men creating a vicious cycle of discriminatory practices favouring male domination. One such practice is the deprivation of women’s rights to land, property and inheritance. Such deprivation of rights to assets are added obstacles to their rights to access credit and other rights to development such as education and training and in turn, creates for them a situation of dependency or unsustainable economic, social and cultural autonomy’.’

‘Education is a further arena of inequality highlighted in the analysis. Here ongoing patterns of discrimination are summed up in the policy demands of civil society organisations. In India one noted, ‘over the medium term, all gender-discriminatory education systems, media, teachers and environmental factors in the classroom should be reformed through deliberate action’. Whereas in Nepal another underlined how: ‘barriers preventing women and girls from participating in education, training and science… are still prevalent… budget constraints and a lack of funding have impeded policy implementation. [Amongst the ongoing problems…] parents in rural areas keep their daughters out of school to act as childminders for their younger siblings during harvesting periods’,’ adds Professor Chaney.

The study also highlights how civil society itself may also be guilty of reproducing patterns and processes of gender inequality because, across the two countries, many civil society organizations continue to be dominated by men. The WISERD study concludes by noting that, whilst at a rhetorical level at least, contemporary government advocacy of gender equality in India and Nepal is undoubtedly positive, this new research raises a number of key, ongoing concerns about how those in power are attempting to implement the requirements of UN gender equality agreements.

The full paper can be found at:

Chaney, P. (2015) The ‘Complementarity Conjecture’ – Does Civil Society Engagement Strengthen Input Legitimacy and Shape Policy Delivery? The Case of Gender Mainstreaming in India and Nepal 2005-15, Journal of Comparative Asian Development (T& F, Routledge). 14, 3, pages 377-13