Towards genuine gender equality in Nepal’s politics

This article was originally published in www.nepallivetoday.com on December 20, 2023 by Dipti Ghimire. Ms. Ghimire ​​is a research intern at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. Author can be reached at [email protected]

Differences between men and women have existed forever. Despite living in a time that claims to be more equal, there are still unfair differences in opportunities between men and women. Nowhere is this disparity more pronounced than in the realm of politics, where the voice of women has been systematically muted. While women comprise a significant majority, accounting for 51.13% of Nepal’s population, they are astonishingly underrepresented in the country’s political arena, constituting a mere 33 percent of Nepal’s political leaders. This under-representation not only curtails their ability to champion women’s rights and address women’s issues but also hinders their capacity to play a meaningful role in fostering an inclusive and equitable nation.

Historical Perspective

Nepal’s political evolution reflects a gradual response to rectify historical gender imbalances. In the era of Panchayat, a mere three seats were earmarked for women. Post the 1990 Jana Andolan I, parliamentary seats for women saw a modest increase to 5%. However, women’s presence in both the cabinet and the broader political landscape remained below 6% until 2007. A significant turning point materialized in 2015 with the enactment of Nepal’s new constitution, a transformative moment mandating a substantial 33% representation of women in parliamentary and government positions.

This constitutional overhaul introduced a noteworthy provision for male-female alternates in key positions, including President, Vice President, Chief, Deputy Chief of Parliament, Mayor, and Deputy Mayor. While these quota measures have undeniably contributed to fortifying women’s presence in the political sphere, the trajectory toward gender equality encounters persistent impediments. Challenges persist, ranging from a lack of familiarity with the new federal system to resistance emanating from male counterparts, dominant groups, and entrenched conservative ideologies. The journey toward comprehensive gender parity remains a work in progress.

Challenges in Practice

Empirical evidence reveals a disconcerting reality, wherein women are systematically relegated to lower positions, such as vice-speaker at the federal level or deputy mayor at the local level. The conspicuous absence of women in primary leadership roles persists from the central government to grassroots levels. Governmental bodies overwhelmingly exhibit a male-dominated leadership, assigning women and marginalized groups to subordinate positions. The inherent hypocrisy of Nepali political parties  to genuinely promote gender equality is evident, with a stark contrast between their professed commitment and the actual practices observed in leadership hierarchies, candidate selection processes, and policy implementations. Elected women often find their voices ignored, with decisions being made without their crucial input.

Instances of skepticism among male leaders when working with women in leadership roles are alarmingly pervasive. A poignant illustration is the municipal government of Laximiya, where the hesitancy of a male mayor to engage with a female colleague on labor policy budgeting resulted in her exclusion from the process. This exclusionary approach persisted, with the municipal government making decisions without consulting the only female member among the 15 municipal officials. These incidents clearly epitomize gender inequality in action.

Despite the widely acknowledged principle that societal development hinges upon the active involvement of all its members, women continually find themselves marginalized in the decision-making process. Even when women ascend to leadership positions, they often encounter neglect or face unwarranted scrutiny. A telling example is the experience of a female politician in Janakpur, spearheading a major road expansion project, completing 80% of the work much more efficiently than her male counterparts. However, her success was met with an antagonistic comment about her educational background from a male city ward member. These attitudes underscore the persistent challenges women face in a patriarchal society, where their skills, capabilities, and educational qualifications are unjustly questioned when venturing into politics.

Addressing Deep-Seated Biases

Another significant challenge arises from the deeply rooted perception of politics as a domain dominated by men, perpetuating the marginalization of women and creating an environment where socially privileged groups of men continue to dictate the political landscape. Decisions are frequently made by male leaders during informal sessions, and these decisions are later shared in formal assemblies. Male members of the parliament are often perceived as unsupportive of acknowledging gender issues as crucial topics for discussion. Female leaders face the unfortunate judgment that their dedication is contingent on aligning their opinions with their respective parties. Any expression of dissent results in unwarranted scrutiny of their sexuality and femininity, labeling them as advocates of the feminist agenda. The stark reality is that men and women do not receive equal treatment in the political realm.

The Need for Holistic Change

The repercussions of these circumstances are profound. Decisions made exclusively by men in the country tend to be less sustainable and impactful than decisions formulated through the collaboration of both men and women. The different perspectives, experiences, and learning styles of men and women create an environment where they can make unique and balanced contributions. Genuine progress and impartiality in the country are only attainable when there is common ground between the genders on laws, policies, and other decisions. While there are numerous policies and programs aimed at promoting gender equality in Nepal, their efficacy remains limited without proper implementation. To truly level the playing field, political parties must actively support women by providing them with opportunities to run for elections by giving them more tickets, increasing their representation in the First Past The Post system, financially supporting their campaigns, and enhancing women’s access to decision-making central committees. This can demonstrate the political party’s commitment to gender equality by addressing these institutional bottlenecks and barriers.

Recommendations

A change in mindset regarding the credibility of women as leaders is long overdue. While individual choices and electoral preferences do play a role in these decisions, it is imperative to acknowledge that overcoming deep-seated societal structures and biases is crucial for achieving genuine gender equality. The credibility of women as leaders should no longer be a subject of debate but an unequivocal truth. It’s about time the political parties fully accept the undeniable truth that women are just as capable and competent as men in leadership roles . In a world where diversity is a driving force behind progress and innovation, it’s essential for Nepal to recognize that the latent talents and capabilities of women in politics remain untapped. The political parties must work collectively towards unleashing this vast potential instead of perpetuating the status quo. Comprehensive educational initiatives, voter education, media campaigns, and community engagement are essential components of reshaping perceptions and cultivating a culture that values and promotes the leadership abilities of both men and women equally. It’s high time we break down the barriers that have held women back from attaining their rightful place in the political landscape.