Speech: Ziad Sheikh, UN Women Representative and acting UN Resident Coordinator on Dalit rights
Nepal. 2 December 2014
Zaid Sheikh highlighted the discrimination faced by Dalit women at the National Conference of Dalit Women for Democracy, Social Justice, Sustainable Peace and Inclusive Constitution, held at Nepal Administrative College in Jawlakhel.
“Across the world and throughout societies, discrimination and exclusion continue to violate human rights and hold back the development of just, inclusive democracies. This discrimination is based on gender, caste, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation and religion. And when, for example, you are a Dalit woman, you face double discrimination leading to social, political and economic exclusion and often worse. As we know, this is a reality in Nepal.”
In 2011, the National Dalit Commission listed 26 different Dalit categories in Nepal comprising nearly 13 percent of the total population. The national index of empowerment and inclusion shows Dalit women to be among the most marginalized and excluded in society. Without equal access to opportunities and resources, without a voice in decision-making processes, and without protection from violence, Dalit women are vulnerable to this double discrimination. Sheikh referred to Nepal’s obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, international human rights instruments, the Interim Constitution and national legislation in addressing caste-based discrimination.
Dalit groups and leaders have worked to secure provisions for non-discrimination, equality and protection in Nepal’s interim constitution, expected to be finalized in January 2015. The government has shown its commitment to protecting the rights of Dalits through the Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act. However, major challenges remain in the implementation of these measures, in particular low levels of awareness that caste-based discrimination is a crime and concerns that such crimes will be addressed sufficiently.
Nepal as a member state and signatory to international human rights instruments has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment and action to eliminate caste-based discrimination during the upcoming second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review [UPR] in 2015 (the first UPR was in July 2011).
“The protection and promotion of all human rights and the commitment to inclusive development are essential to ensuring a sustainable peace, while discrimination and inequality are major barriers to democracy” commented Sheikh. He referred to the conference for the 20th anniversary review of the Beijing Platform for Action. The conference included the active participation of large numbers of Dalit women from across the country, and their views taken forward to the regional level and next year at the global level during the Commission on the Status of Women and the UN General Assembly’s review of Member States’ commitments to Beijing.
Sheikh described the United Nation’s work in Nepal, with an emphasis on empowering the most vulnerable groups and ensuring their full participation in the social, economic and cultural spheres. This commitment is manifested in Nepal’s UN Development Assistance Framework, the primary development partnership framework between the government and the United Nations. “We will continue to work with those who are empowered and have the ability to bring about positive social change by reducing discrimination and promoting social cohesion. Support to the Dalit and Women’s Commissions and the introduction of gender responsive budgeting are just some examples of how we are advancing this agenda.” Said Sheikh. He continued: “The remarkable work and ongoing efforts for women’s participation in Nepal continues, led by many of you here today. And the ongoing process to draft the country’s new constitution presents a historical opportunity to cement the country’s commitment to an inclusive future for all Nepalis.” Commented Sheikh.
Sheikh ended by thanking the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO) and other organizations represented for their work and reaffirmed UN commitment to supporting Nepal in pursuing its national priorities and international commitments.