Nepal, with a home to almost 30 million people, has a sex ratio (male/female) of 94.2. In an economy of almost 30 billion, traditionally, there has been a larger male participation in the workforce compared to the female participation. However, this trend has been changing in recent years. The database for male workforce provided by the International Labor Organization indicates that the rate of male workforce participation has diminished from 90.78% in 1995 to the lowest value of 85.86% in the year 2017. On contrary, Nepal’s rate of female participation in workforce has increased from 81.68% in 1995 to 82.73% in 2017. This includes the percentage of female population aged 15 and above who are economically active; all women who supply labor for the production of goods and services during a specified period. This increase in female workforce participation can be linked to two factors –
- Upsurged literacy rate of female population in Nepal: Nepal’s literacy rate stood at an estimated 64.9% of adult population (aged 15 and above) among which, the adult literacy rate for male is an estimated 75.58% and that for female is an estimated 55.11%. The female literacy rate has increased from 17.38% in the year 1991 to 58.87% (est.) by 2017. The overall trend indicates that the female literacy rate in Nepal has increased.
Figure 1. Literacy rate, adult female (% of females ages 15 and above)
(Source: World Bank Data Bank and Nepal Rastra Bank)
- Foreign Employment: Foreign employment is a major factor in the increasing trend of female workforce participation in Nepal. From FY 2007/08 to FY 2016/17, Nepal issued about 3.5 million labor permits out of which the average rate of permit issued for male workers was 95.32% while that of female was only 4.68%. This has led to more concentration of female population in the job market, hence, increasing the women participation in workforce.
Figure 2. Share of Total Labor Migrants by Sex
(Source: Ministry of Labor and Employment, 2018)
Factoring the Increased Female Literacy Rate and Foreign Employment
Research show that the increase in literacy rate among female, help reduce poverty. The study revealed that the household expenses were covered by female income while the male income was invested in other income generating sources, thus improving the living patterns of the family in the long run. Similar is the case in terms of Nepal; with increasing women participation in workforce, lifestyle of families have graduated.
Similarly, remittance too, has a crucial role in this dimension. The remittance received in FY 2017/18 alone exceeded NPR 700 billion (USD 6.65 billion), which is more than one – fourth of national GDP, the fourth – highest proportion in the world. This money has effected Nepali households in two ways. First, the remittance income is entirely spent as household expenses, which has changed the consumption pattern and living standards of families. Second, the remittance income has served as a source of investment for the running business operations by the female lead of the house. Hence, indirectly, it has contributed to increased female engagement in economic activities.
Overall, it can be deduced that the trend of women participation in Nepal’s workforce has increased and their contribution to the economic activities of the family and the nation as a whole has increased.
Other Side of the Picture – The Ones Left Behind
As discussed above the trend of women participation in Nepal’s workforce has increased. Having said that, the rate of participation is yet very low to achieve Nepal aims to graduate to a middle income country by 2030 Hence, it is essential that efforts be made to boost women participation in workforce which accounts for more than half of the population of the country. Below discussed are some of the hurdles that have been hindering women’s participation in the workforce:
- Literacy rate of rural women: If we segregate the female literacy rate of Nepal into rural and urban areas, there is no denying that majority of the 55.11% of literate female are from urban parts of Nepal. 
- Traditional roles of women: Nepali society considers women to be the care giver of the family while the male counterparts are considered as the money maker for the family. In many low income countries including Nepal, women are mostly involved in unpaid activities like household work and farming. Moreover, research show that despite being less educated than men, for major purchase decision regarding household supplies, women are the decision-maker in the family. Despite having a substantial economic contribution of women in the families, their traditional role is taken for granted.
- Caught in a vicious cycle of patriarchal society: In low income countries like Nepal, women are caught in a vicious circle of the patriarchal society where despite being educated and having access to relatively high- status positions in the organizations, their status are more closely tied to their husband’s or father’s authority.
The increased literacy rate and the upsurge in female workforce participation doesn’t reflect the overall societal factors that impair the competitiveness of women of the country. Their competitiveness can be amplified by bringing changes in the social perception regarding the traditional roles of women and devising policies that shall help bring modifications in such perception. Altering the education system is one of the many ways in which gender biases can be reduced. Educational institutions should promote the concept of equality and life skills specially in higher classes, where adolescents go through phase of identity crisis. Also, families should promote the culture of equality between male and female child to create a more gender friendly society.
 Nepal Rastra Bank (2075). Nepal’s Demographic, Social, Economic and Financial Status, Page 2.
 ILOSTAT (2017). Country Profile: Nepal. Accessed 06 February 2019.
 International Labor Organization, ILOSTAT database. Early release of the 2017 “ILO Labor force estimates and projections. Accessed February 6, 2019.
 “Nepal Female labor force participation”, The Global Economy.com; Economic indicators over 200 years, 2018. https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/
 World Bank databank. Country Profile – Nepal.
 “Labour Migration for Employment: A status report for Nepal: 2015/16-2016/17”, Page 10, Ministry of Labor and Employment: Government of Nepal.
 Ripudaman Singh, “Female Literacy and Economic Development in India”, May 2016.
 Government of Nepal – Ministry of Labor and Employment, 2018. “Labor migration for employment- A status report for Nepal 2015/16- 2016/17” Page 10.
 Kamal Prasad Panthee, “Rural Urban Education in Nepal”(2015): 8-13. Accessed February 14, 2019.
 Trading Economics. “Nepal labor force participation rates” World Bank Data 2018