Harmful practices can be defined as persistent behaviours that discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, age, caste/ethnicity, language, religion, amongst others. They leave women and people from excluded groups at risk of violence, poorer physical and psychological health, limited educational and economic outcomes, injuries, and even death. Notably, harmful practices are not isolated or random; they stem from deeply-rooted patriarchal, social, cultural and religious norms perpetuated throughout centuries that view women, as well as lower caste groups, as inferior.
Harmful practices are prevalent and often perceived as traditional and normal in the communities in which they are practiced, however, they prevent individuals and groups from reaching their full potential. Many are denied dignity and freedoms as a result of harmful practices. Based on the results of the 2017 Community Perception Survey, the UN Country Team (UNCT) recognized harmful practices as a serious barrier to development outcomes, particularly for women and girls. These practices hinder inclusive governance and political participation, economic development, education, agricultural development, health and more, and ultimately prevent the realization of the 2030 Agenda and the principle of Leaving No One Behind.
Therefore, the UNCT established the Harmful Practices Working Group (HPWG) in 2018 to support an informed, coordinated and coherent approach to addressing harmful practices across outcome areas of the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2018-2022. It is recognized by the UNCT that addressing harmful practices requires a systematic, multi-sectoral, and multi-level approach which targets structural inequality and gender discriminatory social norms.
A number of harmful practices prevail in Nepal, however the HPWG selected caste-based discrimination, menstrual restrictions including chhaupadi, child marriage, dowry, and witchcraft accusations and persecution to be covered in a literature review1 and this survey. These practices were highlighted by the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2018) as having serious negative impacts on women and girls in Nepal. This survey report aims to shed light on five of the prevailing harmful practices in Nepal and act as resource to understand these practices further. The survey findings provide data on the way in which these harmful practices are practiced in Province 2, Karnali Province and Sudurpaschim Province and highlights how they are deeply rooted in discriminatory social norms, often founded on religious beliefs and customs. It is evident from both the survey and literature review that more in-depth studies are required to strengthen our understanding on the ways in which we can promote social norm and transformative change in an effort to eliminate harmful practices.