Women's Property Rights Movement in Nepal
by Binda Pandey
Nepal is still running under strong feudalistic social values and norms. There were no clear provisions regarding Nepalese women and property rights until 1975. Following the UN Declaration of 1975, which was International Women's Year, the Nepali government began to celebrate International Women's Day on the 8th of March. That same year, the Civil Code was amended and a clause on women's inheritance and property rights included. The clause states that if a woman remains unmarried up to 35 years of age, she would have a right to inherit property. However, the amendment limits itself as it continues "if she gets marriage after having property that should be returned back to the brothers by deducting the marriage cost."
With the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, the new constitution guaranteed that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of sex. Furthermore, in 1991, the government ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW-1979). The nation's Women's Movement demanded that all inequalities in Nepali law be eliminated and focused attention on the equal right of women to inherit property. All political parties have included this demand in their respective election manifestos. The opposition party in parliament, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist, has raised this issue repeatedly but the government has neither considered it seriously, nor taken any initiation to amend discriminatory laws.
In 1993, a case was finally filed in the Supreme Court with a demand to amend the Civil Code to give women equal rights over property.
After two years, in 1995, the Supreme Court issued a directive to the government to introduce a Bill in parliament that would guarantee a woman's rights to inherit property.
Following the Supreme Court directive, the Ministry of Women and Social Welfare drafted a Bill, popularly known as the "Women's Property Rights Bill" in order to amend the existing Civil Code. It was tabled for discussion in the 11th session of Parliament.
It took almost six years more to be passed through parliament, despite a number of other Bills being adopted in this time parliament. During this period, different political parties and parliamentary committees have made a number of changes to the original Bill.
On July 17, 2001, a parliamentary committee unanimously declared that women should have equal rights to inherit property. However, the ruling Nepali Congress party expressed some disagreement and proposed that inherited property "should be returned back to respective brother/s if she gets marriage". The ruling party passed the Bill with a majority vote in the Lower House of Parliament in October 2001. But, the Upper House - National Assembly, which is dominated by the opposition party, failed the Bill and it was sent back to the Lower House for reconsideration.
In due process, the Bill came back to the Lower House. Here, the ruling party was pressing for the Bill to be adopted while the main opposition party, supported by almost all women organizations, was pressing hard to guarantee inherited property rights for women equivalent to that of their brother/s.
In this situation, there was a risk that the Bill would not be passed again and it might take several more years to go through another round of discussion. At this point, the opposition party made the tricky decision to vote for a Bill with its reservation on the provision, which do not recognize the equal right of sons or daughters to inherited property after marriage.
Major Achievements through 11th Amendment
in Civil Code-2020 (1963)
After all these turning points, the bill was finally passed in parliament on March 14, 2002. It was sent to the King for his seal of approval and came into effect from September 27, 2002. The major achievements of this amendment are as follows:
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