The 2011Census recognizes eight named religious groups in Nepal—Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Kirat, Jain, Sikh and Bahai—and Others. The Nepal Country Analysis 2011 further narrowed its focus on, although not exclusively, Muslim women, who constitute a minority within a minority on account of the specific denial of rights and discrimination they suffer.
The vast majority (95%) of Nepal’s Muslims live in the Tarai. While Nepali Muslims are not a homogenous group, but one that is fragmented along ethnic, regional, occupational and doctrinal lines, the Muslim community is nonetheless recognized as one of the most marginalized and disadvantaged in the country. Muslim women have a literacy rate of 26% compared to the national rate of 55% for women, while 62% of Muslim men are literate compared to the national rate of 81% percent for men. In 2004, poverty among Muslims was 41%, approximately 10 percentage points higher than the national figure. Their under-five mortality rate is 80 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 68 for the country as a whole. Similarly, there are 318 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the Muslim community compared to 229 nationally.
Muslims are underrepresented in the political system and civil administration. Only about 0.43% of posts in the civil service are held by Muslims.
Social exclusion is exacerbated for Muslim women and girls. For example, many Muslim girls are not sent to schools that do not respect religious principles, but there are very few schools above primary level (when girls are 10–11 years old) that meet this requirement. Many Muslim girls drop out of formal education when they reach puberty due to the strict implementation of school uniform rules in Nepal. Some girls may continue their education through Madrasahs, where the quality of education is reportedly low. This lack of educational opportunities, especially for Muslim girls, results in a subsequent lack of employment opportunities, directly affecting individuals’ future economic independence.
The Interim Constitution specifically mentions Muslims among the minorities needing special provisions in their favour. The Ministry of Finance recognizes Muslims as a marginalized group and has allocated a budget for development initiatives targeting the community. Additionally, the government has agreed to amend constitutional and legal provisions and provide a constitutional guarantee for Muslim identity; to make efforts to guarantee political, economic, social, cultural and educational rights for Muslims; and to form a National Muslim Commission.
UN Women has been involved in strengthening the capacity and knowledge of religious leaders on violence against women in partnership with STEP Nepal and in establishing a National Inter-Religious Network, which works in Birgunj, Banke and Nepalgunj.