Nepal’s anti-trafficking law is a deep rooted patriarchal issue

Nepal’s anti-trafficking law is a deep rooted patriarchal issue

Nepal’s anti-trafficking law is a deep rooted patriarchal issue

silhouette of woman with sunset
Cliona Hallahan

4th June 2021


There has been an uproar of protest in Nepal following the government’s proposal to ban women from travelling abroad. This proposal would require Nepali women under 40 to have consent from their families and government officials before travelling to Africa or the Middle East. Proposed by the Department of Immigration, the ban was created in an attempt to prevent the trafficking of women in Nepal. 


Executive director of Women’s Lead Nepal, Hima Bista, spoke out against the proposal, “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 mindset is.”


In 2019, a report by the Nepal Human Rights Commission showed that 1.5 million people were at risk of being trafficked. An estimated 38,000 people were trafficked in Nepal in 2018, according to Nepal’s Human Right Commission. Of this figure, 15,000 were women and 5,000 were girls.


“There were also an estimated 18,000 male victims of trafficking that year, hence why activists are of the belief that the proposed ban on women travelling abroad is not the approach that should be taken to solve this issue.”

International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) have spoken out, explaining that the proposal is not only oppressive and sexist, but may go on to further endanger women. Sonal Mehta, IPPF South Asia Regional Office Director says, “The Government of Nepal has clarified that this proposed rule is an attempt to curb trafficking of young girls and women. On the contrary, this rule inflicts violence by restricting movement and encouraging control over women. It reinforces regressive gender norms of approval and guardianship. I wish I was in Nepal to join the outrage of women and girls there, and we stand in solidarity with them.”


Surakshya Giri, board member of IPPF also stated, “These restrictions are against Nepal’s commitments under the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).” Highlighting the many layers of injustice to the proposed ban on women requiring consent to travel, Former commissioner of the Nepal Human Rights Commission, Mohna Ansari, also pointed out the CEDAW violation, furthering the argument against the ban by posing the question, “If women aren’t protected inside the country, how can they be safe abroad?”


This proposal is not the first of its kind, following an earlier ban on Nepali citizens working as domestic workers in the Gulf. This, however, only stands to demonstrate that these bans do not stop women from travelling to these countries, it just forces them to take illegal routes to their destinations. Human rights activists are calling for the government to take measures to warn the population on the dangers of human trafficking, instead of enforcing restrictions that may cause more harm than good.




Featured photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

This article was supported by: Programme Assistant Rachel


Why is it illegal for married couples to have different surnames in Japan?

Why is it illegal for married couples to have different surnames in Japan?

Why is it illegal for married couples to have different surnames in Japan?

neon light man proposing to woman
Maggie Courtney

31st May 2021


1896 saw the implementation and introduction of Japan’s civil code which included laws surrounding issues such as divorce and individuals with disabilities. The code also saw the implementation of the notion that married couples are legally required to share the same surname. Japan is now one of the very few industrialised countries to still have this law in place despite many people viewing it as being extremely discriminatory and archaic, with many previous laws being altered to fit a more progressive modern society. The civil code has never indicated which surname the couples are required to take, but it has been shown that 96% of married Japanese women end up taking their husband’s surname.  


In previous years, many women’s rights activists have fought to change these laws. 2015 saw a supreme court ruling which deemed this law to be one which does not violate the constitution. This was in response to five women who attempted to sue the Japanese government for 6m yen (approximately €45,800). These women viewed this law as being unconstitutional and violated the civil rights of married couples, deeming them persistent emotional distress which prevented them from being able to remarry when they wanted to. Many conservative politicians and commentators argued that the removal of this law would take away from the strong traditional family unit Japan is known for and one which the country tends to prioritise.  


“Masaomi Takanori, a constitutional scholar, responded to the lawsuit in a very traditional way stating his beliefs that names are the best to way to bind families and hold them together.” 

The lawsuit was one which attracted controversy among the general public with 52% of the public believing it is the couples who deserve the right to be able to choose their surnames and whether they take each other’s. 34% of the public rejected the idea with many people believing this law should stay in place and not be altered.  


The rejection of the lawsuit concluded that the only reason married couples could avoid this law was to not register their marriages. This is not the most feasible idea as it raises many problems related to parental rights and to issues of inheritance or wealth. This has left many married couples to still register their marriage despite the complications with having to share the same surname.  


This law is one which many women’s right activists are still fighting against despite the major blow they suffered in 2015 and the failure of the lawsuit in 2011. One big blow to women in Japan is the rejection by the Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality, Tamayo Marukawa, of the legal challenge to change these laws which would allow women to change their surname after they get married. She rejected this and signed the petition due to what she refers to as a ‘personal opinion’ and not one which would affect her work when it comes to that of gender equality. The current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga brought hope to people fighting against this law when he revealed he was in favour of the implementation of the use of dual surnames in late 2020 but he still yet to take action in regards to his comment. 


This law is one which continues to be controversial and one which has allowed the country to be viewed as an incredibly backwards country when it comes to that of gender equality and the advancement of women’s rightsFollowing extremely traditional and outdated views, the UN committee of the elimination of discrimination against women recommended that Japan reviews these laws by publicly stating it is one which discriminates against women. It is one which activists will continue to fight against and maybe one day, the women of Japan will be successful in gaining back their personal identity. 





Featured photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash + edited using Canva

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Rachel


Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war
Women and the military representation
Aoife Burke
4th October 2020
In recent years, the relationship between women and the military has become topical in countries such as the UK. In 2018 all positions in the British Army became open to women for the first time, and since then the army has been using increasingly feminist rhetoric in their PR and recruitment campaigns. However, during the same period, government reports and individual testimonies have shed light on the level of discrimination, abuse, and sexual harassment experienced by women in the British armed forces. These issues have fuelled important discussions on the compatibility of feminism and the military – or lack thereof. These discussions have been largely focused on the experiences of female soldiers, questioning whether army service can be empowering to women on an individual level. However, the stories of female civilians (the group that has historically been most affected by war) have been consistently left out of the discourse. Women who have witnessed the reality of imperialist military intervention and shouldered the true cost of war should be at the forefront in discussions about gender and the army. Instead, both historically and in the present day, female civilians in conflict have had their voices spoken over and their stories twisted and misused, for the benefit of imperialist powers.


As we can see in the British Army’s current PR campaign, particularly in their podcast episode with Laura Whitmore, feminism is being appropriated in order to paint military service as empowering to women. Another, perhaps even more dangerous way in which feminism has been misused is in the portrayal of Western military interventions as liberatory to civilian women. Both of these narratives are used to expand the military reach and both erase the lived experiences of women who have suffered at the hands of militarism. The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.


Historically, Britain and other European powers have attacked the rights and undermined the autonomy of women in colonised countries. In the process of colonisation, the social, legal, and economic structures of patriarchy were often forced upon native societies. For instance, in pre-colonial Canada, indigenous society generally valued women, and indigenous women often held leadership and decision-making roles. Furthermore, because of strong kinship systems, women were not economically dependent on men. However, colonial settlers ignored the position of women in indigenous culture, refusing to engage with female spokespersons and enforcing the patriarchal norms that had been well-established in Europe by that time. The lasting impact of patriarchal colonialism can still be seen in Canada today, where indigenous women face the highest rates of violence, poverty, and poor health.


“The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.”

The colonisation of Africa also saw the European ideals of patriarchy imposed on native women. The arrival of cash crops and the exclusion of women from the marketplace meant that African women generally lost power and economic independence during the colonial period. Because colonial authorities relied on the testimony of men to establish customary laws, the legal systems that developed under colonialism disadvantaged women. Furthermore, the pre-colonial political activity of women was largely disregarded and colonial agents worked exclusively with men in establishing political offices. For instance, in many parts of West Africa, associations run by and for women had deciding authority in disputes related to markets and agriculture. However, because these institutions were completely disregarded by European colonisers, they tended to lose power after the late 19th century. Overall, Britain, alongside other imperialist powers, has a long history of reversing the rights and freedoms of civilian women in colonised countries.


Despite this reality, the subject of women’s rights was used to defend British imperialism. This phenomenon relied on the portrayal of women in the Global South as victims, who need to be saved from their own culture by “civilised” Westerners. This paternalistic and racist narrative has been used time and time again to justify devastating wars and exploitative invasions, particularly in Islamic countries. As scholar Leila Ahmed discusses in her book Women and Gender in Islam, the late 19th-century British coloniser Lord Cromer used the veiling of women in Islam as evidence of the inferiority of Islamic civilisations, and ultimately as justification for the colonisation of Egypt. Lord Cromer actively opposed women’s suffrage in Britain and hindered the progression of women’s liberation in Egypt – yet none of this stopped him from using women’s rights as a pretext for his colonial endeavours. Disturbingly, a similar pattern is still playing out in the 21st century.


Since the early 2000s, Britain and the United States have used “feminist” rhetoric to help justify imperialist military invasions in the Middle East. In 2001, George Bush pushed the idea that war in Afghanistan would free “women of cover ” – reverting to the same patronizing portrayal of Muslim women that was used to defend British colonialism over a century prior. Concerningly, women were also complicit in promoting this storyline, with both Laura Bush and Cherie Blair being wheeled out to speak on the plight of Afghan women in the lead up to war – as though Western military invasions and bombing raids would somehow help liberate them. Yet in 2011, ten years into the war, Afghanistan was named the “most dangerous place in the world to be a woman”, with ongoing conflict and NATO airstrikes among the primary reasons cited. In a similar fashion, the narrative of rescuing women was used to legitimise the Iraq war. Bush repeatedly made vague, non-committal statements about women’s rights in the lead-up to the invasion. “Respect for women can … triumph in the Middle East and beyond”, he said in a speech to the UN in 2002 in which he urged action on Iraq. While Iraqi women were granted some benefits on paper during the war period, in reality, they were disproportionately harmed by conflict and left with less security and economic autonomy than before. The vast suffering of female civilians at the hands of British and U.S. military action highlights the utter emptiness of feminist language in this context.


George W. Bush gives a speech on war in the Middle East, focusing on the rights of women (videocafeblog, 2008)
The trend of world leaders appropriating feminism to sell militarism ultimately contributes to public ignorance about what war really means for women. According to the United Nations, war and conflict exacerbate pre-existing gender inequalities and leave women at a heightened risk of human rights violations. During conflict, women and girls are increasingly targeted through the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war. In late 2019, the British government and army were accused of covering up war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including sexual abuse. As well as a serious increase in the risk of gender-based violence, women are also disproportionately impacted by unstable access to essential services. Access to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, can often be disrupted during conflict, leaving women and girls at risk of unplanned pregnancy, maternal mortality and STI’s. Furthermore, due to additional domestic responsibilities and fear of targeted attacks, girls’ right to education is disproportionately threatened during war. Continued instability in post-conflict periods means that the threats posed to women’s rights can last long after war officially ends. These issues, and the immense suffering they cause, are too often swept under the rug in discussions about gender and the military.


In conclusion, despite the empty words of political leaders and the vague sentiments of military PR campaigns, war poses a threat to women’s rights throughout the world. The suffering of civilians has always been inherent in the military action of countries such as Britain and the U.S., and women have shouldered the brunt of this injustice. The use of feminist rhetoric in a pro-war context is not only hypocritical but serves to erase the experiences of civilian women in war, including those who have lost their lives.


Stay tuned for episode 3 of this series which will explore whether or not gender representation in the military actually promotes equality.




Featured photo by USA Today


The misogynistic reality of media interviews

The misogynistic reality of media interviews

The misogynic reality of media interviews

camera set up for interview
Emily Murphy

17th May 2021


From being asked about underwear and sexual relationships, to breasts, cosmetics and diet, it seems that being subjected to inappropriate questions is a standard procedure for women in the public eye. From the hills of Hollywood to the chambers of Parliament, misogyny rears its ugly head in the form of a media who incessantly seem to value the achievements of women based upon their physical appearance, their relationship status and their ability to balance family and professional life. 


For years, these professional, uninformed and outright sexist questions and remarks directed towards predominantly female interviewees were seen as the norm. All anyone has to do is watch the recent Britney Spears documentary Framing Britney Spears to get a grasp of the issue at hand. There were many shocking revelations made in the documentary with regards to the blatant misogyny Britney, and many other young female celebrities were, and still are, subjected to. Arguably the most disturbing moment was an interview clip with Dutch television personality Ivo Niehe and a then 17-year-old Britney Spears. During the interview, Spears was asked by Niehe to discuss her breasts because, as he informed the young teen, her breasts are something that “everyone is talking about”. Sexualised and objectified by a 52-year-old man, Spears’ monumental achievements and successes were diminished in that moment in favour of a wildly inappropriate conversation about her physical features.


In the wake of the Britney Spears documentary, interviews with various talk show hosts have resurfaced, demonstrating that sexism and double-standards during interviews is not an experience unique to Spears, nor is it limited to the early nineties. Several clips from David Letterman’s show The Late Show went viral and sparked fury amongst viewers. Perhaps most shocking was an interview Letterman had with Lindsay Lohan in 2013. Throughout the interview, Letterman made several attempts to pry into Lohan’s personal life, persistently prodding her about her journey with rehab and her “wild lifestyle”. Despite Lohan’s clear discomfort, Letterman continues to encroach upon intimate details of the actors’ life. While she remains calm and the two keep things relatively light-hearted, it is clear that by the end of the interview the relentless intrusion brings Lohan close to tears. But hey, all in the name of good TV, right?


The most alarming aspect of these interviews is that at the time, Letterman, and so many others who have done the same, escaped any form of accountability for their actions. He was not publicly criticised for his behaviour or glaring sexist comments and assumptions.



“Instead, Letterman was commended for his journalistic skills and for getting the “inside scoop” on Lohan’s personal life. No repercussions. No consequences. Just praise at the expense of a woman’s comfort.”


Scarlett Johansson is someone who has been at the receiving end of sexist interview questions time and time again, as she gets asked routinely about her attire, diet and makeup tips. In a press interview for an Avengers movie, Johansson’s co-star Robert Downey Jnr. is seen being asked a deep and thought-provoking question about his character’s development over the course of several movies and then, almost comically, Scarlett is asked immediately afterwards how she “got in shape” for her role. Most shocking perhaps is when Johansson was asked whether she wore underwear under her Black Widow costume for the Avengers movies. The same interviewer also made uncomfortable comments towards Anne Hathaway about how “form-fitting” her costume was for her role in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. The unsettling patterns of these interviews date back to as early as 1975 when Helen Mirren was asked if her “physical attributes” hinder her in her “pursuit of being a successful actress,” as interviewer Michael Parkinson states that having large breasts may “detract” from her performance. While today it is rare to directly hear comments like these thrown around, the truth of the matter is that these remarks have simply evolved to suit the times. As previously demonstrated, they may not be as explicit, but the thinking behind them reminds largely the same.   


Breaking away from the bubble of Hollywood, it seems that even the political realm could not escape sexism’s suffocating grasp. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has shown exceptional leadership since coming into office in 2017, in handling New Zealand’s deadliest terrorist attack which took the lives of 51 people, navigating a lethal volcanic eruption, dealing decisively with the COVID-19 pandemic, all while securing a landslide victory to guarantee her a longer term in office. Yet, it appears that gender-fuelled interview questions show no mercy, not even to New Zealand’s youngest ever prime minister. Only seven hours into her job, Ardern appeared on TV show The Project and was asked by interviewer Jesse Mulligans about her plans to have children. Less than a day later, the Prime Minister appeared on a different talk show where host Mark Richardson stated that the country has a right to know Ardern’s plans for having a family and taking maternity leave. 


“In the space of twentyfour hours, despite her success and historical achievement, Jacinda Ardern was reminded by two men that according to society’s standards, she was first and foremost a baby-maker and that her bodily autonomy was up for grabs.”

To some, the nature of these questions on the surface level may seem harmless – some throwaway remarks that do not run much deeper than a ‘bit of fun’. But this is a pitiful excuse used to cower under the glass ceiling of systemic sexism. The nature of the questions posed in these interviews perpetuate archaic, harmful attitudes towards women while simultaneously informing wider society that it is normal to objectify, sexualise and belittle women and their work in this way. Behind these questions are misogynistic assumptions of women’s roles in society and the hierarchy of their values. They reinforce the damaging idea that women should look a certain way or be a certain size, that they owe it to the public to discuss their private and personal matters. That somehow, they are public property.  


Female celebrities and politicians are not puppets that can be strung along by the mainstream media to perform in order to appease their viewership with superficial promises of scandal, gossip and personal life divulgence. They are real women, real people who are hard-working, committed and successful in what they do. The least they deserve is to be treated with human decency and acknowledged for their achievements. The fact that it took Britney Spears’ documentary being released to finally shed some well-needed light on the subject proves how deeply ingrained harmful gender assumptions and stereotypes are in society’s subconscious. While we may have succeeded in cracking the protective shell of these gender norms, we still need to learn how to shatter it.  







Featured photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Humanitarian Editor Amyrose + Programme Assistant Rachel



Activists protest proposed ban on Nepali women travelling abroad

Activists protest proposed ban on Nepali women travelling abroad


Activists protest proposed ban on Nepali women travelling abroad 

view from a plane window
Aoife McDonald

4th May 2021


A proposed law in Nepal banning women from travelling abroad without a permission letter from their families and government wards has caused uproar. It contradicts the rights to freedom of movement and asylum under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Nepal is a signatory. It was introduced by the Department of Immigration in February of this year and aims to prevent women being trafficked, while making it easier for governments to contact citizens in trouble overseasAccording to a 2018 UNODC report, 35,000 Nepalese people were victims of human trafficking that year, including 15,000 women and 5,000 girls. 


Activists have pointed out that it is not only women who are trafficked, and policymakers should consider both women and men in any proposed legal changes. Hima Bista, executive director at Women Lead Nepal, told protesters that the thinking behind the proposed law is “extremely dangerous and demonstrates how deep-rooted the patriarchal mindset is. Patriarchal attitudes have had a long tradition of restricting the autonomy of women in Nepal. In 1988, during the reign of the monarchy, the Foreign Employment Act was amended, requiring women to obtain permission from a guardian (usually a parent, husband or brother) as well as the Nepali government.  


The country later adopted a more progressive stance following the downfall of the monarchy. In 2007, the Foreign Employment Act stated that “No gender discrimination shall be made while sending workers for foreign employment”. The latest development, however, demonstrates the persistence of traditional patriarchal views within the state apparatus. In 2017, the Nepali government issued an order banning Nepali citizens from travelling to the Gulf for jobs as domestic workers.  


“Gulf countries employ migrant domestic workers under the “Kafala” system, by which their mobility is controlled by their employer. This means that employers hold the passports of migrant workers and have legal control over their ability to change employment or leave the country.”

Although the Kafala system is problematic, feminist activists criticize the 2017 ban as compounding the issues faced by Nepali migrant women. Again, the ban was to protect citizens from being trafficked. In reality, instead of protecting women from exploitation, the ban discriminates against women as the main cohort seeking domestic work, and even places them in danger. 


The Gulf countries remain a favourite destination of Nepali women, as salaries for domestic workers far outstrip those in Nepal. Due to the 2017 legislation, women choose to travel through neighbouring countries, such as India, with which Nepal shares an open border, before travelling on to the Middle East. This leaves women undocumented, and more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. Activists refute the claim that further restrictions on women’s freedom of movement will prevent the exploitation and abuse of women. The average salary of women in Nepal is only $5,497 per annum, meaning that many will choose to emigrate without documentation. The most recent proposals restricting women consolidates this fear. 


The recent proposals have been shrouded in confusion regarding the actual content of the proposed changes to legislation. Teknarayan Paudel, director of the Department of Immigration, insisted in an interview with The Republic, that every female under 40 would have to obtain the letter of permission. The stance of the Department of Immigration, however, is that the requirement would only apply to women travelling alone for the first time to countries in the Middle East and AfricaDespite this contradiction, it appears as though the intention was to impose a blanket ban on all countriesThe limited ban seems to have been a revaluation of the original intention in response to the backlash. The department clarified that the law only applied to “vulnerable” women and has not yet been finalised. 






Featured photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash



How can we support the women who make our clothes?

How can we support the women who make our clothes?


How can we support the women who make our clothes?

garment workers
Rachael Kenny

27th April 2021



Fast fashion has emerged as the dominant business model in the global apparel industry and has completely changed how this sector operates. The constant need for new clothes and the next ‘big trend’ in fashion has resulted in massive volumes of clothing being produced and sold at prices that appear too good to be true. Unfortunately, these prices are in fact usually too good to be true as someone, somewhere along the supply chain is paying the true cost. So how is it possible for fast fashion brands to sell clothes at very low prices and still ensure a fair wage for garment workers? The answer: It usually isn’t. 


Approximately 80% of garment workers worldwide are women who often do not earn a living wage and therefore struggle to cover their basic needs such as food, rent, education and healthcare. Garment workers can be subjected to poor or unsafe working conditions and they do not always receive access to the employment rights and protections that they should be entitled to. The lack of rights for garment workers has been a major issue in the fashion industry for many years, but the Coronavirus crisis has illuminated the dire need for a rapid change in how garment workers are treated. 


The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic left many people feeling uncertain and apprehensive about the future. Garment workers were no exception. Many large retailers, including Primark, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, and Matalan, cancelled billions of dollars’ worth of orders, including orders already in production and orders that were fully completed. According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the onset of these cancellations presented disastrous scenarios for the garment industry, with one million garment workers in Bangladesh losing their jobs or being laid-off without pay.


“The Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC) and Penn State University conducted a survey of almost 300 Bangladeshi garment suppliers in March 2020, which found that an astonishing 97% of garment suppliers had not been given any financial assistance to cover severance costs or the cost of furloughing their workers, by any brand.”

Aruna Kashyap, who is a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian at the time, ‘‘The brands are trying to minimise their losses but the impact on the ground in Bangladesh has already been catastrophic and will spell disaster for millions of families.’’ 


So, what can we as consumers do to support garment workers and hold corporations accountable for such unethical production practices? Non-profit organisation Remake decided something had to be done to advocate for garment workers who were left jobless and unpaid for work already completed. This ultimately led to the creation of #PayUp social media campaign, which aimed to call out brands who refused to pay for their cancelled orders. Taking social media by storm, the #PayUp campaign’s global petition has garnered over 270,000 signatures, calling on big brands to essentially pay up what they owe. This petition had a massive impact over the past year with various retailers including Nike, H&M, Gap Inc., and Primark agreeing to provide garment workers with the payments they rightfully deserve. This campaign highlights the power of people coming together to stand-up for change. Without the pressure of social media activism, it is likely that many companies would never have agreed to honour their financial commitments to the garment industry. It’s an ongoing process and while, as of March 2021, the #PayUp campaign has unlocked $22 billion dollars globally which impacted 70 million garment workers, there are still many large brands who are yet to pay for cancelled orders.  


Paying the garment industry what is owed is a basic responsibility. During the pandemic, garment worker wages have dropped by 21% according to WRC’s Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain November 2020 report. The growing inequalities are strikingly clear as many brands continue to generate huge profits, while garment workers are increasingly struggling to put meals on the table for their families. Researching information, generating awareness, signing petitions, and encouraging others to take a stand is where we can start to support the women who make our clothes. The only way forward is holding businesses fully accountable for their actions and insisting on fair working conditions and pay for garment workers all around the world. We can’t ignore this clear violation of human rights any longer.  






Featured photo by Rio Lecatompessy on Unsplash