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2008 Women's Rights Prize

Sapana Pradhan Malla

Sapana Pradhan Malla earned a Bachelor of Law degree from Tribhuvan University and a Masters of Law degree from Delhi University. A practicing lawyer before the Supreme Court of Nepal, she has been involved in almost all leading public litigation in that country, including cases involving legalization of abortion, criminalization of marital rape, and equality in marriage and family law. Due in large part to her efforts, more than 64 discriminatory laws of Nepal have been struck down. The Human Trafficking Act that she helped draft has become a legal model for the region. Pradhan Malla was instrumental in securing the most recent legal reforms protecting the fundamental reproductive and property rights of women in Nepal. She has also succeeded in getting the Court to agree to maintain confidentiality in cases related to violence against women and cases involving HIV and AIDS, and to enforce confidentiality in all stages of the justice system. In addition, she fought to ensure women’s right of participation in the army and in foreign employment.

Pradhan Malla has published extensively on the legal status of women in Nepal and has brought several landmark cases to Nepal’s Supreme Court. Her success is built on careful research, enabling her to find the evidence needed to present a compelling case. In spite of her success, she believes that progress will increase only when women are willing to assert their new rights. Despite marital rape becoming a punishable offense, for example, she believes that no woman would actually use the protection now afforded under law. Pradhan Malla stresses that Nepal, even as a secular nation, is still held back by a caste system. Dalit (lower-caste) women, for example, lag far behind the rest of the country in literacy and life expectancy. Their status also makes them vulnerable to being abducted and trafficked as sex workers, underscoring the cultural obstacles that Pradhan Malla confronts as she advocates for reform.

A member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly, Pradhan Malla participates in state restructuring through constitutional reform. She is also a strong advocate of women’s participation in the political process and, as a result of her efforts and influence, women now make up one-third of the Assembly. Pradhan Malla is president of the Forum for Women, Law & Development and vice president of the Legal Aid Consultancy Center, and serves as National Coordinator for the South Asian Women’s Law Association. Her dream is to ensure a comprehensive women’s rights agenda within the constitutional framework.