A Gender Perspective, Routledge

Getting to grips with social transformation

By Dr Punam Yadav

The top down study of social transformation can turn people’s subjective experience, which is dynamic, multiple, fluid and unpredictable, into an abstraction.

An example of social transformation in Nepal, the focus of this book, is how women have taken to driving the tempo, a three-wheeled electric vehicle used as a transport service. This used to be a male-dominated profession. Women were allowed to drive cars but few could imagine them driving a tempo. Despite some criticisms, one woman started and others followed. Now it is considered normal. Says one woman tempo driver: “Our society has changed a lot. This profession wasn’t women’s profession before. It was a courageous step for the person who started first but certainly a lot of women have benefited from this.

“My life has changed a lot. I was a village girl … just in the village, doing household stuff. I was a typical traditional wife and a daughter in-law but after coming to Kathmandu and especially after I started driving a tempo, my life has changed. My children are getting better opportunity for education and I get more respect from our family and society.”

This is an example of the transformations taking place in Nepal, which have larger impacts on society. However, most approaches to the study of such changes is a top-down and intentional process with specific and definable goals. This book argues that instead, it must be approached from both a gender perspective and from bottom up. This will reveal the dynamism, power struggles and human agency, which enrich our understanding of how transformation occurs. This is important in the context of a society with a complex traditional structure of caste, class, ethnicity, religion and regional locality; a society deeply affected by the ten-year civil conflict of the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006).

Following the Peace Agreement in 2006, social transformation is a buzz word. It seems as if everybody is talking about it. It has become one of the main topics for national and local newspapers, and gender equality is prominent in the discussions.

Various NGOs are working on this issue. Some of them were established after the Peace Agreement to bring about social transformation. The term has not only received attention from them and from activists and political leaders, but it has also caught the attention of many academics. However, none of their research offers an in-depth examination of the “gains” women achieved during the war. Nor do they look at how, as a consequence, “intended and unintended transformations” are taking place, not only in terms of gender relations but in the whole social structure.

This book explores how social transformation might be understood. It looks at how its underlying dynamics might be differently constructed if women’s lived experiences were the foundation for theorizing. Through extensive interviews with women in post-conflict Nepal, this book analyses the intended and unintended impacts of conflict. It traces the transformations in women’s understandings of themselves and their positions in public life.

This book uses interviews with women based on categories that did not exist or had little relevance in pre-conflict Nepal. They include women such as Constituent Assembly members, combatants, war widows and tempo drivers. This book argues that the transformative effects reach far beyond women’s formal presence in the public sphere. They have an existential effect which can only be discerned through the voices of women. Narratives from Nepalese women of different ages, castes and both urban and rural settings provide insight into the depth of transformation under way in Nepal, in ways and to an extent that exceed the “measurements” offered by applying established indicators.

There are other examples of social transformation. Widows were expected to wear a white sari in the past. That is no longer the case. Now it is more of a choice of an individual than a ritual. Women are also now in the Nepal army and armed force, which wasn’t the case in pre-conflict Nepal. There is a significant participation of women in politics now. Sarita Chaudhari says: “There was a lot of discrimination against women in Nepal like the dowry, veil, low literacy rate among women, unmatched marriage etc. But the situation has become better now. People have become more aware because of the Maoist movement. They know about their rights. Women participate in different programs which was never the case before.”

In this book, which is based on my PhD dissertation. I discuss various case studies to illustrate the processes of social transformation, which are dynamic, fluid and much more complex than an indicator can reflect.

Social Transformation in Post-conflict Nepal:
A Gender Perspective, Routledge,
eISBN 978-1-138-95581-3
By Punam Kumari Yadav

Dr Punam Yadav is an independent researcher and part-time distance lecturer at the University of Sydney.

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