Our research: In Nepal, we are following approximately 1,000 adolescent girls in Nuwakot, Tanahun and Morang districts.
The context: Nepal is a small, mountainous country situated between China and India. One of the world’s poorest countries, and still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2015, about one-quarter of its citizens are adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19.1
Education and learning: Nepali girls are now more likely than boys to be enrolled in both primary and secondary school. However, boys are more likely to complete secondary school and pass the school leaving exam than girls.2 This is driven by parents’ preference for – and greater investment in – sons. Boys are more likely to be sent to higher-quality private schools and are given more time to do homework.3
Bodily autonomy, integrity and freedom from violence: Child marriage has been declining rapidly in recent years, but 40% of young women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18.4 While historically these child marriages were arranged by parents, in some regions of Nepal child-driven child marriages are becoming more common. Research with adult women has found that sexual harassment and gender-based violence are extremely common – but little is known about girls’ experiences.5
Health, nutrition, and sexual and reproductive health: Taboos surrounding sexuality in general – and girls’ sexuality in particular – are strong in Nepal. Adolescents have little access to the comprehensive sex education that would help them understand puberty before they experience it 6 and girls face a variety of restrictions related to menstruation (e.g. in some regions of Nepal girls suffer from chaupadi where they are confined to separate rooms in their homes – or even huts and animal sheds – while they are menstruating).7 Adolescent girls’ access to contraception is also limited, even after marriage, due to a need to prove fertility.
Psychosocial well-being: Nepali girls tend to have more limited mobility and smaller social networks than their male peers.8 Girls are more likely to be sad and depressed than boys, probably because social norms limit their control over their own lives.9
Voice and agency: Nepali parents’ preference for sons limits girls’ lives from birth. Many have little opportunity to express their opinions or make decisions in their childhood homes, their marital homes, their schools or their communities.10 Married girls are often silenced not only by their husbands, but also by their mothers-in-law.11
Economic empowerment: From childhood, girls work more than boys. Among younger adolescents (aged 12–14), 18% of girls work more than 14 hours a week (compared to 12% for boys) and 10% work more than 28 hours a week (compared to 3% for boys).12 Among those aged 15–17, 64% of girls work less than 43 hours each week and 3% work more than that amount (versus 58.5% and 2% for boys).13 Girls and young women have limited access to financial decision-making and are largely excluded from economic empowerment programmes, which tend to favour either boys or older women.
The evidence base: Our Evidence Mappings found that the literature on Nepali adolescent girls’ capabilities covers a range of areas, with the greatest evidence on education, child marriage and physical health – and the gender norms that shape them.14 However, most of what we know focuses only on older girls, and sometimes only older girls who are married.15