Nepal: Hundreds protest against proposed law on women travelling abroad

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Nepalis protested against a proposed new law that would ban woman from travelling abroad without permission from their families and local government officials on Friday, calling it unconstitutional and “ridiculous”.

Introduced by the Department of Immigration last week in an attempt to prevent women from being trafficked, the law would require all women under 40 years old to seek permission before they visit Africa or the Middle East for the first time.

Hundreds of Nepali women gathered to protest against the proposals at the Maitighar Mandala in the heart of Kathmandu on Friday, as part of a “women’s march” to highlight rape and other abuses of female rights.

Following the backlash and criticism, the immigration department said the law applied only to “vulnerable” women and stressed it had yet to be finalised.

Hima Bista, the executive director at Women Lead Nepal, said during the protest that the proposed law only shows the deep-rooted the patriarchal mind-set in the country.

“What is extremely dangerous is the thought process behind it. The very fact that a policymaker is thinking about drafting this law restricting the movement of adult girls and women tells us how deep-rooted the patriarchal mind-set is,” Bista said.

“A blanket approach targeting girls and women does not work. More homework is required if immigration rules are to be changed, across all genders and within the immigration department itself.”

Ila Sharma, a former election commissioner of Nepal, said: “It’s preposterous the way educated bureaucracy seems to be objectifying women. Clearly, they do not see women as fully fledged adults.”

“Instead of empowering and building the capacity of women, as well as the rest of the emigrant labour workforce, they are being regressive, unconstitutional, not to say ridiculous.”

Nepal’s Human Rights Commission estimated that about 35,000 people, including 15,000 women and 5,000 girls, were victims of trafficking in 2018.

Activists pointed out that it is not just women who are trafficked, so immigration lawmakers should consider women and men in any proposed legal changes.

There have been several attempts over the past decades to combat exploitation through travel restrictions. The latest was in 2017 when the government banned Nepali citizens from working in the Gulf as domestic workers, a move that targeted women.

Activists have long complained that banning women from travelling doesn’t work and infringes their rights.

Meenakshi Ganguly, south Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the current proposals could “force women into riskier, undocumented employment, increasing the danger of trafficking and abuse”.

Ganguly said the 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”. (Source: The Guardian)

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