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Statement by Lisa Honan, Development Director,
British Embassy Nepal
High Level Policy Dialogue on Closing the Gap: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

18 December 2020


Today is a very important day because we are talking about improving access to quality sexual and reproductive health and rights for all women, girls, men and boys. This is even more important because of COVID-19 where we have seen services decline because people are too scared to go to clinics etc. and services have been strained.

Nepal has been on a positive trajectory in improving reproductive, maternal and child health outcomes over the last two decades. But with COVID-19 there is a strong likelihood that those gains will be lost and the gaps that we already knew existed will inevitably widen. We know that even a 10% decline in the use of short-term contraceptives resulting from COVID-19–related disruptions will result in 19,000 more unintended pregnancies in Nepal, with all the health risks that that brings.

Ending preventable deaths in Nepal and in other countries is a priority for the UK government, so quick action is needed. We know that part of the story of improvements in health is that more and better services are delivered closer to every woman and girl. This works. And that is why federalism is so important and provides such an opportunity in Nepal. Federalism is one the best chances Nepal has of getting better value for money for its own resources and those of donors like the UK, and in turn, increasing the health status of its citizens.

However, in terms of reproductive rights, there is a broader issue at stake. That is the status of women and girls in Nepali society. Until a woman is valued as an equal, and is able to make her own choices about her life, women and babies will sadly continue to die. The (lack of) status of women and girls, for me, is at the heart of women being limited from exercising control over their lives, including their reproductive control. We know them as ‘social norms’ but a better description is ‘anti-social norms’. Examples are child marriage, chaupaadi, pressure to have a child within the first year of marriage, girls not receiving an education because of the need to perform chores at home, acid attacks, payment of dowry etc. All of these combine to limit the economic and social potential of women and girls’ in Nepali society.

However, the Government can ill afford to ignore the economic potential of half of its population, particularly in today’s constrained climate. So, I would encourage stakeholders to focus on solutions to this. For example, we need the gender requirements of the Constitution to be fulfilled. More women should be in senior government positions so they can make decisions about other women’s lives. We need gender champions who are men and women. Laws should be enforced. And women need to see value in themselves and challenge the status quo. Even though UKAid is playing its part, I feel the solution lays in the Government’s hands. The status of women themselves must be raised so that they can demand what is due to them in the areas of family planning and many other areas.