Elite NGO leaders as vernacularizers of the human rights concept of violence against women: critical analysis from the perspective of women from socially excluded groups
The study critically examines how elite women leaders of NGOs have vernacularized the concept of Violence Against Women (VAW), one of the most prominent international human rights concepts in Nepal. The term “elite women” in this dissertation refers specifically to women who have disproportionate access to and control over power and resources in Nepal’s social and political realms in relation to other women. The central question is whether and how the concerns of women from socially excluded groups are being addressed by this elite-led process of vernacularization. Human rights ideas have significance only when they are translated to address the concerns of the most marginalised people. In Nepal, over two thirds of the population—the Indigenous Peoples, Madhesis, Dalits, and Muslims— constitute socially excluded groups. The analysis seeks to foreground the perspective of women from these socially excluded groups. The study uses the theoretical concepts of “vernacularization” (Merry) and “intersectionality” (Crenshaw) alongside the general concept of international human rights law for analysing the role of elite-led women NGOs from the perspective of marginalised women. To present a case study of elite-led vernacularization of VAW in Nepal, the research focuses on SAATHI, a well–established, well-funded and influential NGO working for women. By situating the leaders of SAATHI in Nepal’s social and political context, the study tries to reveal how their gender, caste, ethnicity and class has a bearing on how they translate the concept of VAW. The discourse produced by SAATHI’s reports are analysed in light of the major concerns of socially excluded women, particularly the need for recognition of diversity among Nepali women and the multiple forms of oppression they face. The findings of the study suggest that SAATHI’s discourse on VAW does not entirely resonate with the concerns and demands of women from socially excluded groups. The underlying assumption in the discourse is that the experiences of high caste Hindu women, the group in which the leaders of SAATHI belong, represent the experiences of all “Nepali women”. SAATHI adopts a “sameness of treatment approach” and makes recommendations for blanket policies which affect all groups of women in Nepal. Through this discourse, SAATHI perpetuates the trend of glossing over the differences of caste, ethnicity, class and religion among women. It creates an impression that such factors have little or no bearing on the degree and form of violence experienced by women. In this manner, the translation of VAW by the elite NGO leaders perpetuates a discourse that fails to include the experiences of socially excluded women, except when such experiences neatly overlap with those of high caste women.