Nepal

Nepal: Impoverished rural women prone to exploitation in towns

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KATHMAMDU, 12 June 2007 (IRIN) - Maili Buda, 35, is having an increasingly difficult life since her husband was killed in Khalanga village, northwest of the capital, during a clash between the Maoist rebels and government security forces nearly six years ago.

Peace has been restored in the country but many Nepalese women like Buda remain impoverished, say local aid workers.

"Women continue to get poorer by the day and their hardship is compounded by the government's neglect," said local development worker Jiwan Khadga.

He said many impoverished women lost their male relatives during fighting with the Maoists or when they migrated to India to escape the turmoil. "A large number of them didn't return home. They stayed in India and some remarried, even when their wives were waiting for them."

Lack of rights

"The worst off are women, and their impoverished situation is exacerbated by their lack of rights to own property and land," said Biswo Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal, a prominent organisation helping to protect impoverished women from being trafficked or forced into prostitution.

Nepal has introduced laws to ensure equal property rights for women but these are not enforced in the villages.

"We will have to launch a massive campaign to persuade the government to give us its attention," said 36-year old Rabina Regmi, who was displaced from her home in the remote Ramechap District, nearly 200km east of the capital, after her husband was killed by Maoists.

Today she lives in abject poverty in the capital in a small one-room flat with her five children. Her relatives denied her the right to inherit her husband's property and literally forced her out of her house.

Exploited

If the women try to find work in urban areas they can end up in very vulnerable situations and either get underpaid or are sexually exploited, according to Maiti Nepal. The fact that most are also illiterate or semi-literate exacerbates the situation. Nearly 65 percent of Nepalese women are illiterate.

"I had no choice but to work in this dirty environment," said Rita Biswakarma, a 25-year-old waitress in a cabin restaurant, where she often has to endure sexual harassment and even have paid sex with customers. Many village girls working in Kathmandu are tricked into working as waitresses and then forced into providing sexual services.

Fighting between government troops and rebels forced Biswakarma and her two children to flee their village in the poverty-stricken Nuwakot District, about 100km north of Kathmandu, nearly two years ago. Her husband also fled.

Some of the poorest people live in remote hill and mountainous areas in the western part of the country, according to the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). These areas have low rainfall, poor soil, and few roads or markets. Water supply, health, education and sanitation services are virtually non-existent, according to IFAD.

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