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Examining Nepal’s new civil code through gendered lenses
8/30/2017 12:34:22 PM

Aug 21, 2017- The extent to which the provisions of a proposed civil code could potentially enhance or hamper gender equality formed the crux of discussions at a recent interaction between women parliamentarians and the Legislation Committee of the Parliament, held with UNDP support.

Women MPs aired their concerns regarding some of the provisions of a proposed civil code during an interaction with the Legislation Committee of the Parliament held on 18 August. The programme, organized with support of UNDP’s Parliament Support Project (PSP), was intended to facilitate crucial discussions and debate among legislators on issues pertaining to the gender equality in the new code, which is set to replace the Muluki Ain or General Code that has been in effect for 164 years.

 
One of the key issues that emerged during the interaction was that of women’s right to inherit parental property, and the expected impact that a newly introduced will system, as per the proposed code, would have on this right. Chief whip of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Rekha Sharma, said that new laws should be better aligned with the current Constitution, which has guaranteed that women will have equal rights to inherit property without discrimination. Expressing doubts about the implementation of the will system in its current form, and calling for a revision of the approach, she said, “The state should instead make arrangements to take on the specific liabilities of those under the age of 18 and over the age of 60.”
 
In the same vein, MP Shrimaya Thakali said that women were worried of the possibility of the gender gap widening further with the introduction of wills. She urged the government to buy more time to reconsider and rule out all the potential adverse impacts of the new law in relation to gender equality. Adding to this, Coordinator of the Women Parliamentarians’ Coordination Committee, Dr Arzu Deuba said, “The international conventions are made to protect the powerless, and current laws should be thought through in this spirit. The proposition on the will system should be made more women-friendly by, for instance, ensuring a certain compulsory share for daughters before the property is subjected to a will.”
 
Several other women parliamentarians, including Kamala Pant, Sushila Nepal, Sita Nepali, Sita Gurung and Gita Chhetri, also spoke on the issue and on potential threats to gender equality overall.
 
In an effort to assuage their concerns, Legislation Committee member Rewati Raman argued that the new laws do not seek to discriminate against women, adding that, since both the mother and the father would be responsible for choosing the beneficiary of a will, men would not be the “ultimate decision-makers” as feared.
 
Radheshyam Adhikari, who heads the sub-committee created to finalize the draft of major civil and criminal laws, said that the proposed laws, on the whole, are progressive when it comes to the rights of women, and seek to adopt global jurisprudence while also accounting for indigenous practices specific to the Nepali context.  Though he rationalized the urgent need to enact these laws, he did, however, propose that the will system be implemented only after 18 years in view of preparatory time and the potential changes to come in Nepali society by then.
 
Speaking at the end, the Chairperson of the Legislation Committee Ganga Chaudhary shared her conviction that the new laws would bring positive impacts on the lives of women once they were carefully refined and implemented. 
 
Following a year-long exercise by the Legislation Committee, the Civil Code is all set to be deliberated in the full House and passed. UNDP has been assisting this legal reform process since the Government of Nepal took on the initiative.    
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