Number of single women increases in Nepal

Published On: November 25, 2023 09:00 PM NPT By: Pabitra Sunar

KATHMANDU, Nov 25: The number of single women in Nepal has increased of late, according to the latest report. In 2011, single women accounted for 1.5 percent of the total population in Nepal, but by 2021, this percentage has reached 7.3 percent. Based on this data, there are currently 20,41,520 single women in the country. The number of single women has increased by 5.8 percent in the last decade.

According to 2021 National Census data, the percentage of single women who have been separated, divorced, remain unmarried even after the age of 35 or have become widowed, and women who have remained single after their husbands who went for foreign employment remarried another woman abroad is 7.3 percent of the total population in Nepal.

According to Tribhuvan University’s Population Department Professor Dr Yogendra Gurung, the number of single women is increasing due to social and economic conditions in Nepal.

Gurung states that women prefer divorce over continuing difficult married lives due to economic and social development, women's empowerment, increased awareness, and knowledge of their rights.

"Educated and employed women don't want to be subservient to others. Capable women choose divorce over accepting subordination," he said. This shift in the mindset has contributed to the increase in the number of women seeking divorce in Nepal. While men often remarry after divorce, women face challenges in doing so, especially due to responsibilities such as childcare.

Feminist researcher Dr Neeti Aryal explains that the number of single women in Nepal has increased due to more deaths of men who have gone for foreign employment, more deaths of men due to road accidents and other reasons including divorce.

She says, "The number of deaths in various epidemics is also higher in terms of men," she said.

Anthropologist Manab Bahadur Sahu says that the number of single women is also increasing due to rapidly increasing divorce rates, migration, foreign employment, second marriages resulting from foreign employment, death of men during foreign employment, mismatched marriages, and child marriages.

"Because of the property rights that women get after divorce, they prefer divorce over continuing an unhappy marriage," he said.

“The increasing wave of divorces among educated and urban women also contributes to the growing number of single women,” he added.

Because of the large number of elderly people in Nepal, the number of single women has also increased, Gurung said.  According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey, 2022, the average life expectancy in Nepal is 68.9 years for men and 72.7 years for women.

Dr Gurung says the life expectancy of women as per the calculation is 3.8 years more than that of men. Men's life expectancy is reduced due to the fact that men participate more than women in risky work, men smoke and drink alcohol more than women, and do not pay attention to diet.

Gurung expresses concern about potential negative impacts in a country like Nepal, where all development mechanisms are not fully established. He stresses the importance of ensuring employment and social security for single women in countries with a high number of single women.

Although the effect of women's empowerment is seen, it is more likely to have a negative impact in a country like Nepal that does not have a social security system.

He says, "In a country where the number of single women is high, employment and social security should be ensured for them." But in the case of Nepal, the social security situation is still very weak. Weak social protection affects single women.

“In Nepal, the social security situation remains weak, leading to challenges for single women. The societal attitude and behavior towards single women are often inappropriate, subjecting them to various forms of abuse. Single women endure mental stress due to mistreatment from men and society,” said Sahu. Anthropologist Sahu notes that if one parent is absent, there is a psychosocial impact on the children as well.

According to Padmakanya College Professor Lina Baniya, the increase in the number of single women in a developing country like Nepal reflects a decline in the status of women. Societal views and conservative thinking persist, contributing to the challenges faced by single women.

Society continues to stigmatize widows, and the family and community struggle to accept women who have separated or divorced. Baniya highlights the economic, social, and political challenges that single women encounter, leading to a decline in their overall quality of life.

In Aryal’s opinion, the increasing number of single women in Nepali society is also challenging traditional social norms. The notion that staying unmarried or getting a divorce is undesirable is gradually being debated. Aryal notes that unlike in the past, women who become mothers without marriage are increasingly accepted in Nepali society.

Aryal suggests that the rising number of single women may contribute to a decrease in the fertility rate. As women who become widows at an early age or choose to live alone are less likely to have more children, the overall population size may be affected.

What initiative can the government take?

Gender experts recommend that the state should formulate and implement policies for the safety and well-being of single women. Professor Lina Baniya from Padmakanya College proposes that the government should develop policies and programs to protect single women and their children.

She emphasizes the need for employment and self-employment programs tailored to support single women. For those facing challenges in entering formal employment, Baniya suggests the establishment of a subsidy system for self-employment.

Baniya criticizes the existing government allowance program for single women, stating that it has limited impact on their livelihoods. She argues that the state should not only focus on the safety of single women but also ensure their health and education, along with that of their children. A comprehensive security policy for single women, according to Baniya, should encompass village development, housing, education, and health at the state level.

Aryal says that the provision of training to single women who do not have skills and the provision of employment to unemployed women should be made by the state. The state should provide necessary education, scholarship, health etc to the children of single mothers. She says, "It is not a normal thing for a mother to raise a child alone, the state should also take responsibility for it."

Professor Yogendra Gurung also says that the government should adopt a different policy and provide social security for single women and their children. The state should create employment opportunities by developing business-oriented agriculture and tourism sectors.


Leave A Comment