Kathmandu (AFP) - Nepal's proposed new constitution has sparked fury from women who say their citizenship, property and other rights are being curtailed by the document designed to draw a line under centuries of inequality.
Lawmakers tabled a draft in parliament in June shortly after bickering political parties struck an historic deal on the long-awaited charter, spurred to negotiation by an earthquake in March that killed more than 8,800 people.
Bista says she is anxious about the future for her sons since citizenship is needed to get anything in Nepal from a driving license to a bank account.
The draft also makes it easier for a Nepalese man to confer citizenship on his foreign spouse, while a Nepalese woman needs to be married 15 years to her foreign husband before even being allowed to apply.
The draft removes the explicit reference in the current constitution to "sons and daughters".
"The draft dismisses the identity of a woman and reflects our country's patriarchal mindset that seeks to maintain discriminatory practices," said Sapana Pradhan Malla who heads pressure group the Forum for Women, Law and Development.
- Right to abortion fears -
Campaigners are also concerned the draft will be misused to restrict a woman's right to abortion which was legalised in 2002 in the socially conservative country.
The charter bans sex-selective abortions, but activists say the provision is unnecessary since the practice is already illegal. They fear the charter will be used as a powerful tool to deny women abortions, by falsely accusing them of trying to abort girls in a country where boys are preferred.
"This issue should not be dealt with in the constitution," said Sonali Regmi, Asia regional manager for the Center for Reproductive Rights. "We fear that the clause can be misused to limit a woman's right to safe abortion, a key reason for the decrease in Nepal's maternal mortality rates."
Lawmakers were tasked with drafting the charter after a decade-long insurgency ignited by deep-rooted social, political and economic inequalities.
A committee is now set to draw up recommendations for changes to the draft, following a series of public consultations around the country. In recent weeks, violence has marred the consultations, especially in the southern plains, home to the historically marginalised Madhesi community, many of whose members marry into families living across the border in India.
Lawmakers have brushed off the protests and campaigners' concerns, saying the draft is not intended to discriminate against anyone. "The constitution is not anti-women," said ruling coalition lawmaker Bhim Rawal, who helped draft the document. "Every country has provisions to protect its nationality and sovereignty," Rawal told AFP.
But Bista and others remain fearful the charter will close the door on rights they had fought years to get. "We call our country our motherland, and yet a mother's identity has no value," she said.