Achieving gender equality is merely a dream with a limited share of women in decision making positions. Nepal has committed to equal opportunity in a sustainable manner. Limiting the opportunity of women in governing bodies is a sign of backlash and is deepening the gender equality gap.
Election Commission Nepal’s candidate list shows that only 38 percent local election (13 May 2022) candidates are women. Shockingly, minimal women are nominated to leadership positions by the political parties - 7.1 percent for mayor, five percent for rural municipal chairs and three percent for ward chairs ignites a controversy over fair representation. It is a seriously worrying step backward for equality, inclusion, and development.
One of the major essences of democracy is the granting and exercise of the political rights of men and women from all strata of society, regardless of their gender, caste, ethnicity, class, religion, physical ability etc.
Nepali women have played a critical role in the establishment and reestablishment of democracy through their participation in various political movements throughout the history of Nepal. Significant involvement of women was observed in Jana Andolan I and II (people’s movement) to establish democracy in 1990 and overthrow the monarchy, establishing a federal democratic republican state in 2006. Irrespective of class, caste, geography, women were greatly involved and took leadership in those movements.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 was progressive in many ways that includes women’s participation. It was a founding constitution which provisioned for the first time in Nepal’s constitutional history for at least five percent candidacy of women in the election to the House of Representatives along with three women in the National Assembly. The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 is significant to ensure inclusive proportional representation of women in all bodies of the government as a fundamental right of women. Nonetheless, the subsequent articles of the constitution themselves violate the fundamental rights of women limiting their participation to 33 percent in the federal parliament and the provincial assemblies.
Despite the evolutionary ( in comparison to previous constitutions) foresight of the constitution drafters, the current local level election coalition among political parties reflected that patriarchy is systematically embedded in Nepali politics, curbing the participation of women in local bodies by nominating fewer women candidates in the name of coalitions. The distribution of candidacies seems unfair and undemocratic. The nomination of a large number of men for leadership positions like mayor, ward chair demonstrated how the Nepali politics is polluted by hegemonic masculinity that deems politics as a masculine sphere and denies leadership spaces for women once again. The year 2017 saw the largest women representatives i.e 42% at local level governments in Nepal. But the local level election 2079 seems reverting with fewer women candidates which is unfortunate for Nepal. The political parties tend to use law as a tool to fulfill their undue interest rather than institutionalize democracy and spirit of the core value of the Constitution of Nepal that is women’s inclusive proportional participation in all state mechanisms as a fundamental right. Once respective political parties abuse their power and authority not respecting supremacy of constitution and rule of law of the country, it will have intergenerational adverse impact not only in political spheres but all sectors. So it is an alarming issue for Nepal.
Firstly, the limited candidacy of women in local elections is against the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal which mandates proportional inclusion of women in all government bodies to ensure women’s right to participation. Participation of women in politics results in substantial benefits for strengthening democracy, particularly greater responsiveness to citizen needs.
Secondly, achieving gender equality is merely a dream with a limited share of women in decision making positions. Nepal has committed for equal opportunity in a sustainable manner and limiting the opportunity of women in governing bodies is a sign of backlash and deepening the gender equality gap. The political agenda which does not include perspectives, opinions, and experiences of those who are directly affected does not have any significance. Dahlerupa, one of the pioneer scientists to apply critical mass theory in human activities, emphasizes that women are not able to have a significant impact until they increase their number from a few tokens into a considerable number or a “critical mass”. Fewer women candidates means lesser representation in decision making bodies which significantly impact policy decisions that impact them most.
Thirdly, limiting women’s participation in leadership positions like mayor, chair of rural municipalities and ward chairs has raised the question what issues are raised and how policies are shaped at local bodies excluding experiences, opinions, and inputs from the majority population in Nepal.
Evidence shows that increased number of women leaders in decision making positions introduces more bills on social issues, actively participated in planning, implementation of the program, highly responsive to constitution concerns, less corruption, and priorities health, education, livelihood, and major development indicators with reform and revised discriminatory laws against girls, women, and marginalized communities. The evidence from the globe also reveals that the countries with increased share of women in politics are significantly developed, better in achieving human rights, and reducing gender inequalities. The share of women in developed Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, Switzerland is respectively 41,47 and 39 percent where commendable gender equality is realized.
Finally, the democratic practice became fragile by reversing fair representation of candidates which is a vital indicator of democracy. UN former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “While women’s political participation improves democracy, the reverse is also true: democracy is an incubator for gender equality,”. The democratic system benefits from having people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences represented in its governing bodies. It enables nations to draw on the full array of capacity, experience, and skills in the population of deepening democracy.
In such pretext, the sovereign voter’s role in choosing candidates still remains as a hope until the day of election. Even though party leadership has discriminated against women candidates exposing entrenched patriarchal beliefs in politics, the voters still can play a vital role casting their votes to capable and visionary women candidates ( but this is always tricky) and candidates from the minority communities using their power of vote and wisdom. Fair representation can be achieved proportionately selecting candidates from various social characteristics such as gender, caste, ethnicity, and candidates from the disadvantaged groups of Nepali voters consciously use their voting rights.
Nepal is a country of linguistic, caste, ethnicity, religious, geographical, gender diversity and without tackling the exclusion of women and minorities inherent in the Nepali party politics, it is not possible to achieve sustainable growth and greater happiness of the greater people.
To conclude, development is not possible with outnumbered men in local bodies. Abiding by the sprit of federalism, the local bodies are accountable to end discrimination, inequalities, and inclusive participation of all genders, classes, groups ect. It can be only materialized when proportionate representation of people according to the social characteristic is elected to exercise the state execution power. Sustainable development and egalitarian society founded in proportional inclusive and participatory principle envisioned by Nepal is only possible when the plurality of groups within the population gets its equal share in political institutions.