The chilly weather of December had my classmates engage in chiya-talks at the nearest Khaja Ghar from our college. My curiosity got the best of me and within minutes I found myself being an audience to their "rajnitik guffs" (political chit-chat). The speakers were the enthusiastic boys from my batch who had read almost every politics related book, from BP Koirala's 'Aatma Britant' to Sudheer Sharma's 'Prayogshala'.
Amidst this, I could not help but notice a major loophole permeating this scenario: the absence of girls and their opinions in these discourses.
An informal survey conducted among my batch mates revealed that, save for a few, the majority of girls of my college had less interest in politics than boys. While boys always seemed spontaneous in political discussions, girls fell too short on this mark.
As a student of social science, I found myself at no time pondering on the sociological aspects of this discrepancy.
I believe that the skewed gender representation in the mainstream of Nepali politics is one among many factors contributing to the disparity. According to Marian Wright Edelman, an American civil rights activist, "You can't be what you can't see". Similar to the quote, women in our country are still under-represented in parliaments, assemblies and cabinets. Such a condition leaves the girls to have no room for looking up to a female role model. This further restricts them from picturing themselves in positions that seek leadership roles and engage in any discussions that orbit around politics altogether.
The gendering of political discussion has much to do with the contents of information included in history books that are taught in school. The chapters of history solely focus on singing the glory of achievements accomplished by men. Such history chapters fail to recognize the effort made by women which contributes to students understanding that the political world is single-handedly dominated by men.
At a time when children should be encouraged to explore their imaginative and innovative caliber, girls are imposed with beauty standards that can have a severe impact on their self-esteem. In such circumstances, the prime focus of girls is often branched out into different directions that ultimately affects their self-confidence. Self-Confidence is believed to be a resource that motivates psychological engagement with politics. Therefore, the brimming and the timid self-esteem of boys and girls respectively affect the psychological engagement of both the genders where the interest of boys in politics is seen to be taking up arms.
Similarly, the economy and independence of women is another factor contributing to the lower participation of women in political discourses. The electoral politics in Nepal is clearly linked to money power. The gendered role of women as a house-maker or the glue that holds families together restricts them from participating in any income-generating activities. This leads women to not having enough financial resources to contest in politics.
The portrayal of women in the media and showbiz often provides a foundation to categorize distinct societal roles to both males and females. While males are portrayed to display attributes such as strength, power and competitiveness, females are depicted possessing qualities such as beauty, submissiveness, nurturance and cooperation. This trend instills in the mind of the general audience that the muscle to understand complex concepts like politics is only a man's cup of tea.
What is the solution then? There is no shortage of opinions in this regard floating in political-cum-academic landscape. At a principle-level, all could be said that the matter cannot be remedied from a single way, and like all things, requires multiple approaches, whether political, legal or moral.