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Creating the enabling environment for a holistic development to take root in a country is certainly not an easy task especially when there are well entrenched inequalities that shape the power relations among different groups of the population, depriving many of them of their sense of agency, the bedrock for a dignified, indiscriminately prosperous and thriving life.

Thanks to the political changes in the last decade, Nepal, with centuries of social exclusion and marginalization towards certain groups, is certainly moving in the right path towards a more inclusive citizenry.

A push towards Gender Equality and Social Inclusion also commonly referred in developmental jargon as GESI, have become at the same time an ultimate imperative in the development sector but also, due to its complexity, its conundrum.

It is an imperative because of the deep and structured forms of exclusion still prevailing in the country but also a conundrum due to its complexity and multi dimensional aspects to be taken into account while dealing with it.

Certainly, the new constitution offers an overarching framework to create a level playing field where every citizen can take fully part to the development process of the nation while, at the same time, recognizing the urgency to support certain categories of “left behind” segments of  population whose historical grievances must be addressed.

To follow through this paradigm shift towards social inclusion, policies measures are taking shape to re-address the unjust and unbalanced power relations among different groups.

For example, in addition to several policies being implemented by different line ministries, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare is working on a new Gender Equality Policy that will be applicable by all the ministries.

The fact that the International Development Partners Group, representing all the major foreign development agencies and INGOs, has been recently launched A Common Framework for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion, is certainly a big step in the right direction in ensuring the impact of development work reaches out the most vulnerable and excluded groups.

The Framework that is not prescriptive in nature, offers a  blueprint to address the complexities of power relations among citizens in Nepal and while it is not a panacea, it is undoubtedly a milestone in terms of reaching a better understanding on determining the scope and extents of any GESI work, its target groups while offering some guidance on implementing effective actions on the ground.

The document does not constitute an end of the process but rather just a beginning and it is particularly important because of the frankness and honesty it has been written especially in underscoring conceptual areas where there are divergent and there is need of more discussions.

Indeed, while we often use terminologies like “excluded”, “vulnerable” interchangeably when talking about social inclusion, an attentive GESI analysis will raise some distinctions between the two according to the specifics of the group we are referring to and the task of listing out marginalized and vulnerable groups is daunting and extremely sensitive.


In this sense there is an important suggestion in considering “vulnerability” of a more situational nature rather than of a structural condition that would instead define a person or a group as “excluded”.

The new Constitution does not offer much of clarity when it enlists partially overlapping groups covered by the Right to Equality and by the Right to Social Justice respectively with the former referring to provisions of more economic or welfare nature and the latter referring to a more political dimension calling for affirmative actions.

For example while certain groups like Dalits or Indigenous Groups have rights under both categories, others like Senior citizens are entitled to provisions only of more economic nature under the Right to Equality.

Understanding and reaching a consensus on social exclusion and the dynamic underpinning it, including behaviors and societal attitudes shaped along centuries might appear like a mere technical debate but instead could guide us in better policy making and better actions.

The Framework, drawing from different sources and based on a detailed comparative analysis, highlights the existing gaps but also the commonalities on the complex topic of social inclusion, an attempt to analyze the deep and entrenched causes that perpetuate social and economic vulnerability and exclusion.

It highlights a clear link between dominant groups and their influence on the institutions but also on the role the same institutions have in shaping people’s mindsets and attitudes.

There is unanimity that change will happen when there will be in place a broad set of interventions able to address the unique economical needs of groups that are excluded/vulnerable together with comprehensive reforms in legislation whose enforcement can both empower the disadvantaged groups but also bring attitudinal changes in the dominant groups.

In short we need to improve access to livelihood assets, increase the voice and influence of all and support more inclusive policies that can change mindsets and “the Rules of Games” as defined in the Framework that create unequal social relations.

The timing is crucial as the Parliament is about to discuss the Inclusion Commission bill and also the creation, as envisioned by the constitution, of new commissions specifically set up to support the special needs of certain excluded/vulnerable groups.

Yet as already widely commented there is here the risk of creating new structures without “teeth” that will not be able to offer concrete improvement in the lives of their supposed beneficiaries.

Moreover when we talk about social inclusion and gender equality, we should be able to discuss about the diverse specifics of each group feeling discriminated but at the same time if we really want to create an inclusive nation, we need to have a common approach rather than a “silos” approach.

We are risk of underestimating the so called concept of “intersectionality” that defines the different layers constituting one person‘s identity that as define in the Framework, “may confer either negative or positive status and may either block or open access to resources and power in a particular society”.

Whether a citizen of Nepal is denied a rent because of her family name or whether a person living with disabilities is discriminated while applying for a job, we need a strong “central command” to fight discrimination, exclusion and vulnerability.

We need effective mechanisms to address grievances related to cases of discrimination, practical ways to lodge complains when we feel that certain rights are denied because of cultural and societal norms that must be persecuted and punished.

No one underestimates the challenges in effectively tackling deep often unconscious bias and perceptions towards certain segment of the population.

Massive awareness at all the levels of the society starting from the school is certainly needed while a zero tolerance approach must be designed and enforced through which vulnerable and excluded citizens will have the confidence to lodge complaints and feel that that justice can be delivered.

The fact that the donors are feeling the need to act together to deal with GESI issues is very important and can make the difference in encouraging the State to take stronger actions.

As in the case of good governance where key donor countries pulled together their strengths by establishing a Good Governance Facility, a specific GESI Facility could be set up to provide technical support to local NGOs and INGOs committed to fight exclusion and vulnerabilities while creating more opportunities of dialogues among different stakeholders, helping devise strategies and actions at national level.

The GESI Facility could support the establishment of a loose network of activists and actors working in the sector, something that could be called Social Inclusion Forum where different marginalized groups come together to share their best practices and forge new approaches.

It will be key also to engage representatives of the corporate sector that has a huge role but needs extensive sensitization and practical nudging.

The Facility could offer seed funding to the best and most promising ideas that will have the power to create systematic changes that will necessarily and somehow painfully first bring equity to those lagging behind and finally lead to equality among all the citizens.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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