Gender over the Life Cycle

Women tend to conceal their pregnancies to family outsiders, and although the immediate family soon learns of a daughter-in-law's pregnancy, her work responsibilities do not diminish. Women fear childbirth because of the pain, lack of emergency healthcare facilities, and high maternal mortality. Postpartum women are considered ritually impure and remain isolated from the family for 10 days. Then the family priest performs a purifying naming ceremony called nuaran, during which the mother comes out of seclusion, the baby is blessed, held by its father for the first time, and given a name by the priest. The new family member's astrological chart is completed, and the family sponsors a feast. A few months after nuaran, the family sponsors the infant's rice-feeding ceremony, pasnay, during which it is given its first solid food. In some groups, a son's future professional life is predicted based on which among a few items the child is attracted to.

Nepali children are breast-fed for an average of 2 years. Infant mortality rates are high in Nepal, as is maternal death, due to lack of emergency health facilities in the mountainous country. Infant mortality rates are higher for girls than for boys, reflected in the country's unnatural gender ratio and shortened life expectancy for females.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

The birth of boys is celebrated, while the birth of girls is ambivalent—sometimes welcomed, other times tolerated or mourned. A girl is considered a financial burden, and must be protected from men as she grows older and matures. Contradicting this ambivalent view of daughters is the belief that she is sacred to her family as the embodied form of the virgin goddess, and she confers religious merit on her parents at the time of her marriage (Bennett, 1983). Nonetheless, daughters learn to work hard in the fields before their brothers, and are often denied an education while brothers attend school. Nepal has one of the world's largest gender literacy gaps (Poudel & Shrestha, 1999).

Puberty and Adolescence

An unmarried girl is called taruni (youthful) and kumari (virgin), and a boy is called taruna and kumar. Menarche is a period of ritual seclusion in some ethnic and Hindu groups, and soon afterwards, matchmakers will be asked to begin locating a suitable husband for the girl. When a boy reaches maturity, as seen in voice changes and facial hair, his marriage preparations will begin. In high-caste groups who are called "twice-born" (referring to their induction into karmic activity), boys undergo a thread investiture ceremony in which they are given a long sacred thread worn across the right shoulder and under the left arm. There is no equivalent ceremony for girls. Some high castes encourage premenarchal marriages of daughters so as to protect the natal home from her menar-chal pollution. Newaris ritually enact marriage with a god, represented as a fruit, for their unmarried daughters so that they may never suffer the stigma of widowhood or divorce (Allen, 1982).

Attainment of Adulthood

Nepalis are considered adults when they have completed the cycle of life with marriage and the birth of a child.

Individuals are expected to have attained the skills of farming or artisan production to provide for their family economically, and will be given increasingly more responsibility for family economic decisions. While men may occupy positions of public authority and are the heirs of family wealth, women are expected to be equally knowledgeable and able to make informed decisions. Women focus more of their time and energy on the prosperity of their marital family, subsequently decreasing the time they spend visiting their parents and brothers at the natal home. Adults are expected to be able to control their emotions as they are called on to navigate the challenges of family and community, and to foster the ties of reciprocity and cooperation essential to the Nepali rural farming life. Adults become more interested in their spiritual lives as well, though the greatest increase in attention to religious matters occurs in middle and old age.

Middle Age and Old Age

With the presumed diminished sexual interest and activity of older people, the body is believed to become cooler and lighter. Increased concern for their spiritual well-being leads the elderly on pilgrimages to religious holy sites. Older adults welcome the relinquishing of their power and authority to their increasingly competent children, as they move from center stage to the periphery, caring for the grandchildren as the parents work in the fields, and tending to the animals around the farm. Their comfort and security depends on the reliability and goodness of their sons- and daughters-in-law, and older adults who lack such kin ties find themselves in physically difficult positions of having to continue farming or working for others, and the economic insecurity that comes with it.

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