Nepal Plans to Limit Women’s Travel for Work, Again

Policies Supposed to Protect Against Trafficking Only Put Women at Greater Risk

Meenakshi Ganguly

Submitted by Andrea Cottom on Sun, 05/24/2015 - 14:08

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, oversees the organization’s work in the region. Before taking over as South Asia director in 2010, she served as Human Rights Watch’s South Asia researcher since 2004.

Ganguly has worked on a broad range of issues including police reform, sexual violence, discrimination based on religion or caste, freedom of expression, and armed conflict. In India, she has researched abuses surrounding the sectarian riots in Gujarat, the lack of justice in Punjab, issues of religious freedom, the failure to protect India’s vulnerable communities – including those affected by the Maoist conflict – and abuses related to the fighting in the states of Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir. She has also advocated for the protection of women and children from violence, including sexual abuse, and for a human rights approach to India’s foreign policy.

In Nepal, Ganguly continues to press for accountability around rights violations during the armed conflict and for reform to bring abusive members of the government forces and the Maoist combatants to justice. With the end of Sri Lanka’s conflict, she advocated for human rights abusers in the Sri Lankan military, as well as in the Tamil Tigers’ forces, to be held accountable. Ganguly has researched the issue of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, as well as discrimination against ethnic Nepali citizens living in Bhutan. She has documented human rights violations in Bangladesh and called for better protections of labor rights. Additionally, she has worked on issues such as protection of children during conflict, discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, and the rights of men who have sex with men. She has been published in several newspapers, websites, and journals.

Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Ganguly served as the South Asia correspondent for Time Magazine, covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Ganguly has a Masters in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics.

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A Nepalese woman holds a placard against a proposed rule which restricts foreign travel for women under 40 years during a protest outside the Department of Immigration in Kathmandu, Nepal, February 11, 2021.

A Nepalese woman holds a placard against a proposed rule which restricts foreign travel for women under 40 years during a protest outside the Department of Immigration in Kathmandu, Nepal, February 11, 2021.

© 2021 AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

For decades, Nepal’s government has responded to incidents of abuse and exploitation of Nepali women working abroad by imposing one misguided rule after another, restricting their right to travel and earn a living. The latest proposals will make a bad situation even worse for these women.

Under new proposals by the department of immigration, any Nepali woman under the age of 40 will soon need the permission of her family and her local government ward office – among other requirements – before she can travel abroad alone. The proposals have been sent to the home ministry for approval and could come into force soon.

Such thoughtless regulations are harmful. They’re also an insult to women’s dignity. Nepali women have reacted with fury to the proposal. Mohna Ansari, a human rights lawyer, said the rules would violate “constitutional provisions that guarantee equal and fair treatment of all citizens and call for ending gender-based discrimination.”

The new proposals and rules already in place discriminate—unlawfully—based on gender and age and deny women autonomy. They also force women into riskier, undocumented employment, increasing the danger of trafficking and abuse.

Restrictions on Nepali women’s foreign employment date back to the first Foreign Employment Act in 1985. In 2012 the government banned women under 30 from working in Gulf states, and over the following years the age threshold and geographical scope of the ban have repeatedly changed. Under current rules Nepal bans its citizens from domestic work—a sector in which 80 percent of employees are women--in several countries, mostly in the Gulf. As a result, while the Nepali economy relies on remittances from migrant workers, less than 10 percent of documented migrant workers are women. Meanwhile, there are frequent incidents of Nepali women being trafficked by dangerous routes to countries where the government bans them from seeking employment, putting them at greater risk of abuse and exploitation.  If they are subjected to abuse it is harder for them to get help, and they are not entitled to compensation for sickness, death or injury under the government’s scheme because they are undocumented.

The abuse of migrant workers, including women, is a serious problem, but these policies only make it worse. Instead of denying a woman her right to leave her country, the Nepali government should better regulate recruitment agencies, work with destination country governments to put protections in place, and respond effectively to provide protection services when abuses occur.

The Nepali government should include women in decision making, instead of treating them like children and second-class citizens.

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