Women are responsible for collection and management of water resources M. LAMA Malnutrition Declining household food security levels, inadequate agricultural practices and soil fertility losses all lead to malnutrition. In the ecologically fragile mountain areas, environmental degradation directly affects the quantity and quality of food resources.
As a result of socio-cultural norms, women and children are most vulnerable to scarcities, as they receive inadequate quantities and poor-quality nourishment, perform excessive labour and have limited access to health services. In addition, inadequate supplies of clean drinking-water and unsafe sanitation practices in the home result in high exposure to disease. Much of a person's economic value to a household is increasingly defined by the amount of cash that he or she can bring in.
As women are still involved primarily in subsistence farming activities on the family land, they do not earn cash for their hard work. And, as roads open up markets for the selling of farm products, women are usually left out of the cash transactions as men take control.
Previously, women had much more authority over farm products, which they would barter for household necessities. But, owing to their limited mobility, lack of ease in dealing with male traders and low self-esteem, women today are usually excluded from cash transactions. There are some communities in the high mountain areas, however, where women have long been involved in trade, even with countries in Southeast Asia. Women of the Manang and Sherpa communities of Nepal are well known for their entrepreneurial abilities in trading and tourism enterprises.
Influx of new values As already mentioned, even the relatively egalitarian examples of gender relations in some traditional mountain societies with Buddhist or animist beliefs are being transformed by the prevailing values belonging to lowland religious, nationalistic and cultural paradigms. Some of these new values come from Western influences, some from regional pan-South Asian influences and some from development paradigms themselves.
The marginal status of most mountain societies makes resistance to more powerful forces difficult, and the process of mainstreaming mountain cultures into national identities may negate the stronger positions of women from these traditional communities. Changes occurring in once remote mountain areas are affecting gender relations in ways that are not yet fully understood, but the indications are that a woman's value in her household, community and society is declining as money and outside worldliness are becoming the new indicators of status B.
However, the influx of new values does not always have negative consequences for women. Significant numbers are now working to earn a living and support their families, and some have professional positions.
New values bring new aspirations; for example, parents in Bhutan are now sending their daughters to school as they believe education can free them from being trapped at home. Furthermore, mountain communities are increasingly making demands for infrastructural developments that can bring them markets and higher profit margins for their products Tshering, There are very few female professional foresters and agriculturists to challenge the existing stereotypes 8 percent in Nepal , and these pioneering women face immense barriers in their efforts to bring extension services to female farmers Nepali, Because the contribution of women to agricultural production is not visible and not usually considered significant by agricultural professionals, their roles as managers of agrobiodiversity in the region have gone largely unnoticed.
As professional officers often believe traditional crop varieties to be inferior, "backward" crops, the female keepers of the knowledge of these "marginal" species are themselves socially marginalized. Women's traditional knowledge is being devalued and their status is fast eroding in societies that value only those who can produce cash and demonstrate characteristics that ascribe to them the qualities of belonging to the "modern" world.
Statistics indicate that the representation of women in national political bodies is extremely low in most countries of the HKH region, even in countries such as Bhutan where the status of women in the household is more equal to that of men. There are very few women from mountain areas who can represent the interests of similar women in political bodies.
There are many programmes to address the practical and strategic needs of rural women. There is, however, disturbingly little evidence that these programmes and policies have had any impact on or, in many cases, were even known to women. Policies that have been designed, with the best intentions, in capital cities had not taken the local realities of women's lives into account.
The heavy workload and limited mobility of women often made it impossible for them to take advantage of goods and services related to health, for instance, which are supposedly provided by governmental and non-governmental organization NGO agencies. Furthermore, frequently there were few or no financial allocations tied to the policy directives, so that they became little more than expressions of intent noted on official documents.
Working 14 to 16 hours a day with inadequate protein, iron and calorie intake, women do not obtain the expected weight gain during pregnancy, leading to improper development of the foetus and low birth weights. Mountain areas in the HKH region have some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. This is a direct result of poor maternal health and inadequate safe motherhood practices -partially owing to the lack of time for women to give proper care to themselves or their children, partially to a shortage of necessary resources, especially water, and partially to the complete absence of health education and services in remote areas.
A recent letter published in the Kathmandu Post stated that, of 14 medical centres in Nepal able to handle complicated deliveries only two were located in mountain regions, and these are accessible to only a tiny percentage of the women needing such assistance in the mountains. In most homes, even the services of a trained birth attendant are not available. A woman and her child In Bhutan H. RANA The high prevalence of malnutrition contributes to the high rates of disease and death of children, as well as to their delayed physical and mental growth and development.
Female children in some cultures receive less food and medical attention than their brothers, owing to gender discrimination. In patriarchal societies, the necessity of having sons in the family dictates that women must bear continual pregnancies until that objective is met. When women are given the opportunity to determine the number and spacing of their children, they can better assure their survival and care.
When women are educated, they are better able to guarantee their children's education and healthy upbringing. When they are relieved of their excessive work burdens, they have more time to devote to the proper nurturing of their children. A mother who is self-confident and has the same rights and resources as a man can enrich the family, and particularly the children, by recognizing and promoting the best interests of children in every sphere - survival, development, protection and participation NPC of Nepal and UNICEF, Perhaps as a result of the campaigns of a few international agencies, girls are now increasingly being enrolled in school.
This does not necessarily translate into attendance, owing to their responsibilities for child care, livestock herding and such, but their enrolment indicates a new investment in girls' lives. The other development in education that is being seen in the mountains is non-formal education for women. Immensely popular, these programmes provide women with basic reading, writing and accounting skills and also expose them to new technologies and information about health and other concerns.
The greatest impact, however, may be in women's newly found levels of self-confidence and commitment to change things for the better in collaboration with other women in the community. Political participation Although very few mountain women hold political appointments in national assemblies, increasingly women are voting and taking up positions in local bodies, such as the village panchayats in India. In some countries, this is encouraged through the provision of seats reserved for women. In others, women are becoming more confident about speaking at public meetings and becoming active members, and even leaders, of user groups for water and forest management.
As governing bodies in countries of the HKH region are becoming increasingly democratic and decentralized, more women with leadership abilities will take up positions where they are able to represent the needs and interests of mountain women who are otherwise without a voice in national bodies. A young child with fuelwood in Bhutan H. RANA Taking the lead In some mountain communities, women have banded together to address the problems of environmental deterioration, economic hardship and domestic violence. In addition to the well-known example of the Chipko movement in the hills of Uttar Pradesh, another form of social organization which is indigenous to the Gurung society, the mothers' group, has recently received attention.
Across the hills of Nepal and India, such groups are using their joint power to wage war on alcoholism and domestic violence. Women throughout highland societies appear to be competent, knowledgeable, independent actors on whose shoulders the bulk of the responsibility for survival and sustainability of mountain households and communities rests.
However, they are weighed down by structural constraints based on gender, burdened by negative ideologies, have no economic assets and are often unable to enforce their decisions even over their own labour, bodies and major life events. It is also clear that the stereotypic images that the world has about the women of the South Asian subcontinent do not reflect the reality found in many mountain households and communities of the HKH region.
Outsiders who work with mountain women often assume that they are subject to the same levels of gender inequity as lowland women, and thus impose their own biases on how they are to behave. This attitude, together with a myriad of other external forces, is causing mountain women to lose status and value in their own communities.
Development strategies throughout the region do not yet seem to understand that gender bias is a primary cause of poverty because it prevents women from obtaining the education, training, health services, legal status and other capabilities and opportunities to combat it.
Only when gender discrimination is reduced and eventually eliminated can the economic and environmental problems of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region be solved. Women in India: a country profile. Eyzaguirre, P. Rural women: a key to the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. Gender dimensions in biodiversity management: Bhutan and Nepal. Gurung, B. Towards an understanding of mountains, development and knowledge processes: a study of the Mewahang Rai of eastern Nepal. University of Hawaii, USA. Letters to the Editor, 13 March. Kikhi, C. Read Free For 30 Days.
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