Inclusive participation of women not sufficient: President

Today the world is celebrating 107th International Women's Day. To mark the day in Nepal, the government has developed a national slogan for this year: “Skilled Hand and Self-employment: Foundation of Women’s Respect.” The government has also developed a sub-theme for this year’s Women Day: “Working Women in Changing Society: Equal Footsteps by 2030.” The country has introduced many constitutional provisions to empower women.

“Inclusive participation of women is not sufficient. Their participation should be competitive and leadership-oriented,” Bidya Bhandari, the country’s first woman President, said in an interview given to the Gorkhapatra, the sister publication of this daily, on the occasion of Women’s Day. Excerpts:  

The country today has the first woman President, Chief Justice and Speaker of the Legislature-Parliament. How do you see this pleasant coincidence?

This is a delightful coincidence and is the outcome of the century-long struggle of the women's movement for establishing equal rights. This is indeed a historical incident.

How do you recall the century-long women's movement? 

The issues, which were raised at the beginning of the women's movement, are still relevant in the present context. The issues of women's rights that rose at the time when I joined the women's movement and now are similar. We are still fighting for equality and women’s right to education. The only demand of the women's movement is to establish the human rights of women. Nepal has seen partial achievements in the field. The demands were raised and modified according to the times. The issues, raised by Yog Maya Neupane about a century ago, are yet to be addressed. Her contribution to the women's movement is incomparable. I consider her contribution as a milestone in the women's movement of Nepal.

Neupane of Simle, Nepaldanda of Bhojpur had announced her fight against the social inequality, discrimination, caste discrimination and untouchability, ill-practices, exploitation, bonded labour, Sati pratha and injustice that prevailed during the autocratic Rana regime. She had also attempted group self-immolation, but the then government detained her. Her fight against social inequality and injustice didn't end there. When her demands were not addressed, she decided to drown herself in a river to protest against the Ranas. Yog Maya along with 59 people, including 43 women and 16 men, jumped into a roaring river and gave up their life. This is a momentous incident in world history. To pay tribute to her contribution, a new university will be established after her name. Women leaders should learn and take inspiration from her heroic deeds.

This movement was later continued by Mangaladevi, Sadhana, Rewantakumari and many other women. The women’s struggle grew in 2035/36 B.S while it picked new momentum in the 2046 movement. It gained a new height during Janandolan –II in 2062/63 BS. The women’s movement is going strong, building upon the past movements.

Please shed light on the issues of women that are still to be addressed and the challenges that may come on the way of guaranteeing their rights?

The proposal related to women’s participation in politics, which was tabled in the reinstated House of Representative, after the people’s movement of 2062/63 B.S, has not been fully implemented. It sought to ensure one-third representation of women in all the organs of the state. However, women’s representation has hardly reached 5 per cent. I have pressed the parliament to implement this provision. The parliament has already passed a bill related to it. However, this right has not become a constitutional right. We have raised the issue of 40 per cent women representation in the local government. This has opened the door for ensuring gender equality, but still this is not sufficient. We have to work against gender violence. The other challenge that lies on this way is getting citizenship certificate in the name of the mother. The discrimination on parental property should be ended. Hence, the women’s movement should be continued.

What should be done to make women’s participation more competitive and promote leadership?

The issue of inclusive women’s participation has been established by law. The notion of women’s participation has also developed among the women. However, ensuring inclusive participation itself is not enough; their representation should be more competitive.  There is no meaning in obligatory participation if it cannot establish equal participation of women and men. The Constituent Assembly has ensured 33 per cent women’s participation in both the National Assembly and House of Representatives. As per the constitution, the political parties are mandated to ensure 33 per cent women’s representation, either through direct or proportionate representation.

Since the constitution has already been promulgated and the country is stepping ahead on the path of economic transformation, what have you been doing as the patron of the constitution?

The promulgation of the constitution itself is a big achievement. The people should realise and enjoy the rights guaranteed by the constitution. Now the state should witness peace, stability and development. Although it is tough to develop the country due to geographical reasons, Nepal is rich in terms of resources. Development must uplift the living standard of the people. The political parties should the pave way for development. As the President, I’m committed to protecting the constitution and its rights, promoting national unity and social harmony, building an economically viable nation and bringing dignity to the country and its people.

(Translated by Arpana Adhikari)

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