KATHMANDU: If a wife burns the food or demurs to have sex, her husband can beat her. And if she goes out without telling her mother-in-law or doesn't bring in dowry, the mother-in-law can do the same.
That is how a large chunk of women in Nepal's patriarchal society feels, a sample survey has discovered.
The Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010, covering 24 of Nepal's 75 districts, focused on the state of women and children in two regions most vulnerable to disasters and the most underdeveloped: the midwest and the farwest.
These are also the districts that were the most affected by the 10-year Maoist insurgency and see thousands going to India across the border every year due to food scarcity and natural disasters.
Conducted by Nepal's Central Bureau of Statistics and supported by Unicef, the survey covered almost 6,000 households, talking to over 7,000 women about their family lives, health issues and children.
The survey, conducted from September to December 2010, found that 48 percent women, aged between 15-49 years, felt their husbands had the right to beat them if they spoilt the food while cooking, refused to have sex, neglected the children or argued.
Also, a whopping 62 percent believed mothers-in-law were justified in beating them if they failed to bring in dowry, went out of the house without telling them, didn't finish housework in time or argued.
Though Nepal's laws make it a punishable offence for a girl to marry before she is 18, the survey found an overwhelming 60 percent had been married before the legal age of consent.
Sixteen per cent got married while below 15.
Though women dominated the population with the male-female ratio being 100:92.9, the dreaded tradition of chhaupadi still prevailed, despite being banned by the government.
Chhaupadi is the custom of regarding menstruation as a period of impurity during which women are not allowed to touch anything, including water, plants and their husbands.
Though it is not observed so rigidly in the capital and major cities, in the remote villages girls and women are confined to cowsheds during menstruation. Both girl students and women teachers are barred from attending school.
The survey found the midwestern mountain region to be the worst affected — 52 per cent, while the farwestern hilly region reported a 50 per cent prevalence.
"It is unacceptable," said Mr Hanna Singer, Unicef representative in Nepal, referring to the high prevalence of the chhaupadi system and the early marriages.
"The legal structure is protective of women but the implementation needs monitoring."
Singer linked the violence against women to the violence targeting young children.
A whopping 83 per cent of the children interviewed said they had been disciplined either by severe psychological abuse or physical punishment.
"It creates a continuous cycle of violence against women (and also) subjects women to longer cycles of child-bearing (that) has grave consequences for children's and women's health," Mr Singer said.