Male bastions

Published On: May 8, 2017 12:45 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Women representation 
It has of late been a trend among our major political parties to follow the progressive agendas first championed by smaller forces rather than to themselves take the initiative for change. Be it federalism, republicanism or secularism, the major parties were initially reluctant to own up any of these agendas. At a time the discontent with the autocratic monarch had reached it apogee in late 2005, Nepali Congress President GP Koirala was still in favor of retaining a ‘baby king’. And only most grudgingly did the party own up the federal agenda, just as was the case with CPN-UML.

Another important area where the major parties have been found badly wanting is in fostering women political leaders. The record 33 percent representation of women in the first Constituent Assembly was largely the result of the inclusive agenda of the Maoist party of Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Women were at the forefront of the Maoist war against the state, and some of the same women went on to represent the party, first at the interim legislature and then the first CA. Later, the provision of at least 33 percent representation of women in national legislature was included in the constitution. But come 2017, on the eve of the first phase of local election on May 14, the three major actors of Nepali politics seem to be trying to turn the clock back. 

The new Local Election Act requires that when political parties nominate candidates for local bodies, at least 50 percent of the total nominees for chiefs and deputy chiefs of local level units should be women. But of the 283 local units up for grabs in the first phase of local election on May 14, women have been nominated for chiefs in just 38 local units, or in less than 14 percent of the total seats.

Most women nominees of major parties are for deputy chiefs, owing to the provision that one of chief or deputy chief must be a woman. Again, the Maoists have nominated most women chiefs (14), followed by CPN-UML (eight), Nepali Congress (seven) and RPP (six). It is not hard to surmise from this that the top brass of our major parties—all men, of course—still don’t trust women with important duties. It also shows that their lofty promises on inclusion and gender-neutrality aside, these parties are not serious about cultivating capable women leaders. They promote women only when they are forced to do so by the law. 

This is most unfortunate. In a democracy, political parties are thought of as change-agents, the articulators of people’s aspirations. But our political establishments are mostly status quoist forces, which seemingly believe in painfully slow incremental steps rather than in driving bold, substantive changes. It may be true that there are not enough qualified women leaders in these parties right now. But this again is largely the result of male bias. Women have never been cultivated for leadership roles in these parties. But just like their male counterparts, women leaders can be cultivated, and there is no better way to cultivate national-level women leaders than by first picking them for leadership positions at the local level. We hope better sense prevails and these parties pick many more women candidates for the second phase of local election. It is reasonable to assume that if they refuse to change with changing times and hesitate to set the agenda, other more women-friendly parties will eventually usurp their old political space. 


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