Nepali Women In Politics
Spectacular Rise But Miles To Go
Women’s participation in politics has increased remarkably in Nepal over the years. Thousands of women have joined politics, enabling them to enter the top decision-making level as well as play critical role in the overall affairs of the state.
Prior to the Constituent Assembly (CA) election in 2008, there were only 10 women in the 205-member House of Representatives. The Interim Constitution, 2007 helped women secure 33 per cent of seats in the first CA under proportional representation system.
Although women representation dropped to 30 per cent in the second CA, the participation of women lawmakers was very meaningful because there was a shift from quantitative representation to qualitative one.
Furthermore, the Constitution, 2015 has made it mandatory that there should be 33 per cent women in both the federal and State parliaments. Additionally, the Election Commission (EC) has obliged the political parties to implement this provision, which has greatly enhanced the women’s access to the parliament.
With the three-tier elections, a large number of women climbed on the leadership ladder. A total 32.7 per cent of women are in lower house and 37.3 per cent in the upper house. But it is at the local level where the surge of women is phenomenal. Over 14,000 women (40 per cent) are playing their different roles in the local governments across the country.
With 33.5 per cent women parliamentarians represented in the two houses of the Federal Parliament, Nepal has now moved above the global average of 24.3 per cent, according to the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) 2019.
Nepal has made it to top position in South Asia in the representation of women in parliament. It ranks 36th out of 193 countries, with Afghanistan 60th, Pakistan 93rd, Bangladesh 97th, Bhutan 136th and India 150th.
Nepal is now among the eleven countries where women are holding the post of the Head of State. Between October 2015 and June 2016, Nepal made history by electing women to the country’s three powerful positions- the President, the Speaker and the Chief Justice, creating the milestone in the women’s rights movement.
Nonetheless, the participation of Nepali women in the politics began more than sixty years ago. Dwarika Devi Thakurani became the first woman lawmaker in 1958. Two years later she also became the first woman minister. In 1998, Nepali Congress leader Sailaja Acharya became the country’s first and only deputy prime minister.
Despite making strides towards gender equality, women in Nepal are not still on a par with their male counterpart in politics. Our entire political system is still male-dominated, and doubts women’s ability. Women have been largely left out of decision-making positions, government or in the top leadership of political parties. It is an understood fact that female leaders are treated as subordinates.
The women’s political participation is still not adequate given that they make up 51 per cent of the total population. Women are not normally allotted powerful ministerial portfolios. Their representation in the cabinet is just for the sake of presentation, depriving them of crucial decision-making forums.
Their participation in the present government under the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) attests to this fact. There are only four women minister in the 27-member cabinet. In similar manner, the women representation in four national political parties is also worrisome.
“The major political parties have failed to ensure the constitutionally mandated minimum 33 per cent representation of women in the party’s structure,” said Sabitra Bhusal, vice-chair of Inter-Party Women Alliance.
According to her, there is not a single woman in the nine-member central secretariat of the ruling party while there are only two women (4.44 per cent) in 45-member Standing Committee. In the 441-member central committee, there are only 75 women (16.55 per cent).
Similarly, in the 84-member central working committee of Nepali Congress, there are 18 women (21.42 per cent) and of 805-member central committee of the Madhes-based Rastriya Janata Party (RAJAPA), there are 120 (14.90 per cent) women.
She further added that there were no women ministers in State Assembly of State 1 and 3 and other states too have very nominal numbers of women ministers.
Bhusal said this situation occurred in their party because their parties were yet to be unified at the province and district level.
“Before 2062/63 B.S., only 10-12 per cent of women were represented in the central committees. Of late, the number has increased up to 15-21 per cent. But this change was very nominal. At least we want to achieve 50-50 parity in politics,” she said.
Bhusal further said: “It’s a groundbreaking to have women in those three powerful positions, and significant number of women at all levels of the government in the country where the practice of Sati was prevalent some 100 years ago, which forced women to jump onto the funeral pyre of their deceased husband.”
Pampha Bhusal, a CPN leader, assured that the party would implement the provision of 33 per cent representation of women in the party’s structure after the general convention.
Pushpa Thakur, a central committee member of RJP, said that because of the patriarchal nature of the society, gender inequality was pervasive in every mechanism of the state. “The ability of women is often questioned before assigning any responsibility to them so they have been underrepresented in politics.”
Thakur added that women leaders further faced multiple challenges in terms of resource management, family and institutional support.
Women are unable to spare enough time for the politics because of domestic responsibilities and prevailing cultural attitudes regarding their role in the society. The current constitution has specific provisions aimed at boosting gender parity. The government has also taken measures to this end but much to be done to implement them.
Ensuring gender balance in politics is still a far cry. Political empowerment of women may not be sustained well unless there are real changes in social norms allowing women’s meaningful participation in politics.
(Adhikari is journalist at The Rising Nepal)
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