Changes and continuity in gendered social

norms and practices : Cases of marriage
and education in Nepal

Dr. Anita Ghimire
20-23 May, 2-15

The views expressed in this paper are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank
(ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and
accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this paper do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty
or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology.

The Research

Whom: Adolescent girls, young women,
adolescent boys and people who play critical
role in adolescent girls’ and young women’s

Where: Wayal (rural) and Salena (semi-rural) of

When: Fieldwork between March-April, 2014

Qualitative research methods used: 4CM,
9FGDs, 12IDIs, 12Case studies, 8GP and 10KIIs115 interaction in total.

Approach: Social norms and gender justice and
uses the idea of capabilities

Country context: Improving wellbeing and
economic transformation: from Maoist conflict
to graduating out of the list of least developed

Changes and continuity in marriage and
What we found: changing discriminatory norms/practices

More elope marriage and less arranged marriages –marriage age decreased upto 12 yrs in
elope marriages

Change in rationale for marriage- earlier boys married to bring in labour force to the
family - could not go against parents to support wife in case of injustice—now boys
marrying for themselves, more supportive and fair to the wife.

Increase in age of arranged marriage - average 8 yrs in grandmother’s, 11 yrs in mothers
and 17.72 in present generation.

Girls do not have the final say in when and whom to marry in arranged marriageshowever earlier girls were not informed by parents while girls are now informed about the

Increase in age of childbearing and decrease in age difference between spouse-earlier the
age difference was up to 30 yrs.

Increasingly positive attitude about the value of girls’ education- “only witches studygrandmother's generation why do girls need to go to school- mother's generation .,
daughters should also get education- present generation”

What we found: changing discriminatory
norms /practices

Life of adolescent girls has changed for better
quickly in comparison to their elder sisters,
mothers and grandmothers

Differences between rural and urban areas,
caste and religious groups - continues to play
important roles despite changes.

Increased aspirations and expectations in midst
of stringent norms among adolescent girls so
increased likelihood of being disappointed.

Marriage necessarily does not stop a girl from
going to school but pregnancy does

Positive discrimination in schools and
classrooms to promote girls’ self confidence

What we found: persistent discriminatory norms/practices
• Education not a quality strong enough to make a desirable wife- more priority
in culture and cultural standard of the family of the bride – ”Sanskar “ more
important than education
• Support systems from parental community ends after marriage• “ A father gives the daughter’s hand saying if you kill her you will earn sin and if you take care of
her you will earn merit” KII Hindu religious leader, age 59, Kathmandu .

• Difference in expectations from sons and daughters- daughters are brought up
with a focus on making them a dutiful daughter in law

“ they(parents) expect their to look after them when they are old. If they are sick they expect them
that we provide medicine to them......they expect very little from their daughters. They think that
the daughters will leave their home, so have no expectation as such.”- a young boy’s observation of
difference in expectation and treatment.

• Fathers duty for daughters- inculcate “good values” safeguard virginity, search
for an able groom, marry her off and take financial responsibility of marriage to
earn place in heaven

What we found: persistent discriminatory norms
• Norms and practices revolves around the notion of an “ideal girl/women/
“A good wife should adjust with all members of family, not quarrel, should not go out of house, wear
traditional clothes, dA good husband should be able to fulfil wife’s wishes, take care of parents, has a job,
and can provide well for wife and children.o not talk to outsider male and be willing to do all kinds of
household work”

• Son bias in expenditure in education- sons going to private English medium
schools and daughters going to government run Nepali medium schools which
are cheaper
• Education so that girls can be a good mother and more understanding with inlaws . Education is not necessarily linked with a girl’s career “We don’t use daughters

income for household expenses. If she wants to do a job, we prefer that she does it after marriage ” Community
timeline , Salena.

• Dropout rates start after grade seven for both girls and boys and becomes
higher after grade 10.
• Restriction in mobility (only allowed to continue education if the commmunity school has that gradenot allowed to go out of community for higher education) , failure in class due to time poverty,
underinvestment in education, overburden of household work, stigma of
studying with students of younger age when failed resulting in drop outs

Drivers of change

Awareness and development programs

and policies e.g. School Sector Reform
Prpgrams in schools, activities of women
development office

Role models - young teachers, young health

workers, female social activists

Media and communication technology –
both positive and negative eg role of peers

and cells phones in changing arranged

Family - drivers of change as well as
maintainers of stasis

Schools - as platforms

Peers as buffers

Very important roles of men both within the
family and outside the family
Source: Fieldwork,2014

Inhibitors of change
• Role of economics and migration- too poor to try new things- focus is always on
providing for basic life
• Migration to India- migrants following what their family back home say without
• Fear of negative outcomes and social backlash
Eg parents started delaying their daughters marriage and keeping them in school but girls eloped
from school. When girls pursue higher education they become too old to get married and hence
parents do not get a groom

• Lack of agency amongst leaders of change- no platform to bring them together to
push change- so always individual efforts.
• Gender discrimination issues compartmentalised as women's issue only - Men
supportive towards ending gender discrimination but stigmatised for raising
women’s issue and women only taking in women to fight against it.

Possible actions for influencing change

Harmful practices are guided by social
norms which in turn are shaped religion deeply entrenched- girls themselves abide
by it.

Programs for women had created agency
of girls and young women- this agency has
helped them fight discriminatory practices agency- and later changed norms

What combination has worked best to
change normsEducation and awareness, + enforcement
of gender friendly laws + monitoring by
local reference groups and ties up of
informal agency of women to


These came together by chance - could
learn from these and replicate it in

Source: Fieldwork,2014

Key policy implications

Programs should take into account
gendered nature of interaction
between girls and drivers of change

Encourage the role of men

Support families in ending
discriminatory social norms.

Long term and focused interventions

Involving parents in formal
educational system of children
Source: Fieldwork,2014