‘Herstory’ repeats itselfThe misogynic politics of all political parties mustered to make women the political underdogs of Nepal.
For those of us who were sitting in front of the Singha Durbar gate soon after Parliament was restored in 2006, the recent appointment of the speaker of the Lower House is like a repeated beat of the sexist political heat. The same scenario was played out when then deputy speaker Chitralekha Yadav was sidelined by the patriarchal polity to have Subash Nembang named as speaker. It was Yadav who conducted the shadow parliamentary sessions on the streets of Kathmandu until the king bowed down to restore the dissolved Parliament in April 2006. But as soon as Parliament was reinstated, Yadav was asked to 'go back home' to vacate the coveted post of speaker to Nembang.
Yadav is no less accomplished in her academic qualification. She holds a Master’s degree in English, and was a university lecturer until she became a fulltime cadre of the Nepali Congress. Despite the strong support of civil society, Yadav was betrayed by her own party which chose to support Nembang from a rival political party, the United Marxist-Leninist.
Then came federalism
History once again repeated itself during the 2013 Constituent Assembly election when Suprabha Ghimire of Nepali Congress was asked to give up her candidature from Kathmandu Constituency 4 to make way for the patriarch prodigy Gagan Thapa. In fact, during the 2008 Constituent Assembly election, Ghimire was not only the one and only candidate to win in the first-past-the-post system among the female candidates of all political parties in Kathmandu district. She had defeated Bidya Devi Bhandari, the current president of Nepal, who was a candidate from the rival United Marxist-Leninist party.
Federalism came to Nepal following the promulgation of the 2015 Constitution. Clause 38 of the charter under the heading Women’s Right sub-clause 4 stipulates, ‘Women shall have the right to participate in all state structures and bodies on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion.’ But in practice, the misogynic politics of all political parties mustered to make women the 'political underdogs' of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. There are examples after examples to prove this statement, some of which are really heartbreaking and brutal.
One vivid example could be seen during the formulation of the central committee of the Nepal Communist Party, the current ruling party. When women demanded at least one-third inclusion, the party president himself overtly downplayed their claim as 'cheap chatter of the female folks'. As a result, women make up only 16 percent of the central committee of the Nepal Communist Party.
The case of the impeachment motion against then chief justice Sushila Karki forwarded by Nepali Congress and the Maoists in Parliament in April 2017 is another loathsome example. Although the impeachment motion was later withdrawn due to a strong public outcry, the damage was already done towards the 'demise of her story' as the only female chief justice, and one of the most courageous chief justices in the history of Nepal's Supreme Court, was beat down.
In 2018, when the chief ministers were being named in the seven provinces, the women’s movement was very hopeful that Asta Laxmi Shakya—who had dedicated her life as an exemplary underground cadre during the 1980s and in the central level polity of the United Marxist-Leninist party in the 1990s—would get the coveted post of chief minister of Province 3. Very sadly, she was sidelined to make way for the patriarch Dormani Poudel. The misogynic polity shamelessly remains unapologetic for not having a single female in the position of chief minister in any of the seven provinces of federal Nepal.
More recently, during the cabinet reshuffle in November 2019, Minister of Women, Children and Senior Citizens Tham Maya Thapa was sacked to make way for the patriarch Parbat Gurung. This is another example of political misogyny blatantly violating the provision of proportional representation stipulated in Clause 38 (4) of the constitution.
The Nepali public is yet to regain its senses after suffering from shock following the forced ouster of Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe. Tumbahamphe, one of the very few parliamentarians to hold a PhD and possessing an unblemished moral character, is no less qualified to take up the post of speaker than Agni Sapkota. But instead of being promoted to the position of speaker, she was atrociously forced to resign to make way for the patriarch. Nonetheless, the ethical stance she took to defend her position was just mesmerising. I am not hesitant to label her as the 'superwoman of Nepali politics'.
The Nepali women’s movement is very proud to have achieved a 'critical mass' in women representation in the local, provincial and federal bodies. We are also thankful for the 'gender-differentiated representation' in the constitutional positions, right from the highest position of president and vice-president, speaker and deputy speaker, mayor and deputy mayor of urban municipalities, chief and deputy chief of rural municipalities all the way down the line-up to the ward level.
The 2017 election statistics, however, reveal a grim picture of female representatives becoming 'political underdogs' with men being elected to 91 percent of the mayoral positions in urban municipalities, and 98 percent of the chiefs’ positions in rural municipalities—leaving an overwhelming number of women in the deputy positions.
In order to correct this situation, the only way out is 'gender reversal'. What this means is that all those positions taken by male representatives in 2017 must be provided to female representatives in the next general election through a constitutional provision of 'gender reversal' in addition to the 'gender differentiation' provision enshrined in the constitution. The suggested model is already being successfully implemented in the executive committee of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal for more than a decade. This model of confirming women’s participation is the only way out to substantiate the provision of Clause 38 (4) of the constitution.
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