Using women in guerilla wars and revolutions is not a new thing, and there are examples of this in Ethiopia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, and Algeria. Women were important part of Nepal’s Maoist movement, and propaganda of female soldiers holding rifles were used as a symbol of a unified army.
These images legitimized the Maoist cause in many ways, displaying that it was justified and important, because even women were fighting. They also hoped that these images would earn the support and sympathy of the outside world, because ideological support from the outside world has served to boost liberation armies throughout the world. Women were exploited as martyrs for bravely sacrificing their positions as wives and mothers in order to fight for the greater good of the society. However, without women who joined the fight against the Nepali state, the Maoists would have never stood a chance.
It is difficult to estimate the percentage of women participating in Nepal’s conflict, and these numbers are still contested today. One reliable source appears to be the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which states that the percentage of female Maoist combatants was about 19 percent, which is a high number. However, this number is contested by others in Nepal. Former CPN (Maoist-Centre) claim that the combatants were at least 30 percent women.
In 2002/03, the CPN (Maoist-Centre) conducted a survey of women who were recruited during the conflict. 74.56 percent of those interviewed said gender discrimination was moderately present throughout the movement and 61.32 percent of surveyed female ex-combatants, who were members of the People’s Liberation Army, said that there was gender based-discrimination when it came to promotions within the organization.
Women also played a big role in the 2006 movement, sometimes referred to as the People’s Movement II. The Constituent Assembly held in 2008 reserved 33 percent of the seats in all state bodies for women. This meant that 192 woman leaders were elected for the 601 seats. A gender equality bill was also passed, which revised many of the existing laws at the time, and equal citizenship laws were applied to mothers as well as fathers when it came to rights over their children.
Despite the 33 percent reservation, there was still a lack of commitment on the part of political parties, who at first failed to put forward even 33 percent female candidates in the simple majority system. To conflate this problem, women who ran in constituent assembly elections reported that they were undervalued. Many said they were not given the kind of support that male candidates receive, and were sometimes treated unfairly.
During the decade-long conflict, Maoists sent pictures of young women in combat gear to prominent international publications. The main objective of this was to provide evidence of the Maoist movements’ dedication to empower women. They hoped to gather support at home and abroad.
Muna** is a Dalit woman from western Nepal. She faced discrimination in her society, and when she was 15 the Maoists came to her village and offered her a different option.
She then came to believe that she could make a difference and become something more, and so she joined the revolution, and became a child soldier. She was promised food, shelter, access to education and healthcare, and that there would be a better employment opportunities for Dalits like her. Most importantly, she was lead to believe that the Maoists would bring an end to the centuries old caste-based discrimination.
The Maoist revolution brought with it a sense of hope for the future of Nepal, and gave many young people like Muna the belief that they could change the world. With a gun in her arms, she no longer felt like a weak little girl, but a soldier and a force to be reckoned with. However, as the war came to an end and the peace accord signed, Muna began to realize that there was not going to be any food or shelter given to her family in return for fighting, nor a viable option for the poor of Nepal to gain access to healthcare and education. As years passed, she felt her sacrifice was all in vain.
After the war, Muna wanted to participate in the democratic process by running for a position in the constituent assembly elections. When she met with several prominent Maoist leaders at the time, however, she became painfully aware of the way they looked at her and spoke to her. They would not touch her and made it clear that they preferred not to eat with her. While the likes of Muna were seen as good enough to fight and die for the Maoist cause, it was now quite obvious that she was viewed as unfit to be among them, and the systemic discrimination of the past proved more difficult than ever to fight against. She was even told by some Maoist leaders that a woman’s place was at home, bearing children for her husband.
Muna had struggled throughout the conflict to gain equality for women. When asked if she felt betrayed by the CPN (Maoist-Centre), she said that all her effort and work had been for nothing. Muna went on to explain that the lives of the Maoist leaders had improved dramatically since the war, but the lives of Dalits like her remains the same. She feels used by the greedy Maoist leaders.