Social, economic and political context in Nepal

Political context

A large section of the population in Nepal cannot access political participation and representation to public affairs due to economic and social conditions, social stigma and lack of access to information, among other reasons. Nepal retains its centuries-old caste system. Dalits, the most discriminated people under this system, suffer from restriction on the use public amenities, deprivation of economic opportunities, and general neglect by the state and society.

In 1996, the Nepal's Maoist Communist party launched a violent campaign to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people's socialist republic. The ensuing ten years civil war had several origins, including overall poverty and the lack of economic development,  long periods of landlessness and deprivation of lower castes and lower-status ethnic groups generating anger at the country's elites, as well as dissatisfaction against the government's targeting of Maoist activists. The conflict resulted in the death of over 12,000 people, the displacement of more than 100,000 people, and the devastation of public infrastructures.

The conflict officially ended in 2006, with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA). In 2007, the Interim Constitution of Nepal was adopted, replacing the 1990 Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal. It created an interim Legislature-Parliament, a transitional government reflecting the goals of the 2006 People's Movement - the mandate of which was for peace, change, stability, establishment of the competitive multiparty democratic system of governance, rule of law, promotion and protection of human rights, full press freedom and independence of judiciary based on democratic values and norms.

In 2008, a Constituent Assembly (CA) was established. That same year, the CA resolved to end the 239 year-old monarchy and declare Nepal a federal democratic republic. The CA is responsible for electing the President (the head of state) and the Prime Minister (head of government). In 2010, almost a third of the members of the CA were women, and a record number of Dalits and other marginalised groups were elected.

As part of the process of drafting Nepal's new constitution, regional consortiums of NGOs have held 'democracy dialogues,' including over 400,000 people, to help ensure that the constitution represents Nepal's diverse population, as well as to increase citizens' confidence in, and understanding of the process. New constitutional provisions include new economic, social and cultural rights; new voting systems; and affirmative action for marginalised groups. It is expected that women will be assured 33% representation in the new Parliament. The new constitution has not been finalised, largely due to disagreements on whether to determine Nepal state boundaries on the basis of ethnicity. In May 2012, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the Constituent Assembly after it failed to finish the constitution in its last time extension, leaving the country in a legal vacuum. Election of the new Constituent Assembly was due in spring 2013.

Social and economic context

The international community has been heavily involved in supporting Nepal's democratic transition and making progress toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. UNDP's Nepal Human Development Report 2009 found that the underlying causes of conflict have not been resolved (such as poverty and discrimination on the basis of caste and ethnicity), nor have most of the consequences of the conflict (for example, 50,000-70,000 people were thought to still be displaced). Although the UN estimates that poverty in Nepal dropped from 42% in 1996 to approximately 25% in 2009, that trend was not sustained; recent estimates indicate that a quarter of the population are still below the poverty line. Nepal's governance and development challenges have been exacerbated by frequent changes in government and the absence of elected local bodies since 2002.

Policy and legal framework

Nepal has acceded to all major human rights treaties, and the Nepal Treaty Act of 1990 stipulated that provisions in international treaties to which Nepal is a party will supersede Nepalese law where there is divergence. In 2003, the government, in cooperation with civil society, has drawn up Nepal's first National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP). The first of its kind in the region, the Action Plan is intended to give equal attention to civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights.

The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare has the role of coordinating gender mainstreaming efforts in Nepal. Key legislative measures aimed at the promotion of gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women in Nepal include: the five-year strategic plan of the National Women’s Commission (2009-2014); the Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act, 2009; the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act, 2007; the National Women’s Commission Act, 2007; and the Gender Equality Act, 2006. The National Women Commission (NWC) was established by the Government of Nepal through an executive decision in 2002 and a separate Act was promulgated in 2007. It has a legal mandate to monitor and investigate cases of violence against women, providing legal aid, monitor the state obligations to UN reporting under CEDAW, coordinate with government and other agencies for mainstreaming gender policy in national development and recommending and monitoring for the reforms by making research.

Civil society

Nepal’s civil society played a crucial role in the 2006 People’s Movement, but has become fractured in recent years. Social unity is disintegrating due to identity politics based on ethnicity and regionalism.

The NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN) emerged as an umbrella organisation of NGOs in 1990. In addition to defending NGOs’ autonomy, the NFN advocates human rights, social justice and pro-poor development. Today, it has evolved as a leading civil society organisation in Nepal with over 5,370 affiliated NGOs across the country.

In 2003, the Human Rights Treaty Monitoring Coordination Center (HRTMCC) was established. The HRTMCC is a coalition of human rights organisations established to monitor the implementation of the international human rights treaties the country has ratified.

In 2013, a group of former bureaucrats, professionals and individuals from various sectors in Nepal formed an independent civil society organisation, the Citizens Assembly. Its objective is to exert pressure on state authorities, political leadership and policymakers to work for the interests of the country and the public.


Asian Development Bank “Nepal Overview”

Asian Development Bank (2013) “Nepal Fact Sheet”

Government of Nepal (2010) “Second, third and fourth periodic reports of the government of Nepal on measures taken to give effect to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (ICCPR)

Government of Nepal (2011)“The Combined 4th and 5th Periodic Report of the Government of the Republic of Nepal on Implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)”

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (2013) “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Shadow Report”, Second, third & fourth periodic reports of the government of Nepal on measures taken to give effect to ICCPR

Menon, N., Rodgers, Y. (August 2011) “War and women's work: evidence from the conflict in Nepal”, The World Bank

National Women's Commission of Nepal (2011) “Nepal’s Implementation Status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)”

NGO Federation of Nepal 3-Year Strategic Plan (October 2012-September 2015)

UNDP “In Nepal new voices speak through people's constitution” (accessed 09 July 2013)

UNDP (2012) “Nepal: Training promotes peace and gets political parties talking”

UNDP (2009) “Nepal Human Development Report 2009”

The World Bank “Nepal country data”