Sorry state of affairsThe challenges of implementation of the reservation policy for women in Nepal persist.
The effective implementation of 33 percent reservation for women in Nepal not only seems to be a difficult task but a formidable one too. While organisations like the police have a gender policy in place, they have not laid out anything concrete for women's representation in terms of specific numbers across levels and departments. In the education sector, there is a provision for 10 percent reservation for women and marginalised communities up to the Master’s level. Even 33 percent of the budget is earmarked for scholarships to be given to women. However, there is a gap between contemplation and action. Unfortunately, such governmental policies remain mostly as abstractions and rarely get translated into fruitful action commitments. This has made a mockery of the current reservation policy for women. Thus, the challenges of implementation of the reservation policy for women continue to remain as a moot question.
Often, such reservation policies for women are ridiculed and taken as a matter of mere tokenism. Those who are against reservation perceive it as an open threat to meritocracy. It is unfortunate that pursuits in politics are still considered to be a strongly protected male preserve and safeguarded forte. A patron-client relationship that bears a semblance of a father-son relationship is the reason behind the perpetuation of the male-dominated political landscape. Research evidence suggests that women are under-represented in politics more often than not, as they inherently have a lower inclination to run for political office. In addition to their innate predisposition towards politics, even voters and party leaders are prejudiced against the presence and participation of women in politics. There are also documented instances of direct and indirect discrimination shown against women. They include cases of harassment and passing moral judgment over female colleagues. Women also need to make a financial commitment to run for candidacy and campaigning in politics which acts as a deterrent.
Lack of effective laws
Nepal is often praised for statutorily providing 33 percent women’s political representation in parliamentary seats. But the reality is otherwise as most women in politics are found to be only in membership positions rather than in real leadership roles. Although reservation provisions extend to the civil service, more women from the upper strata of society than from the marginalised communities seem to reap the benefits. Hence, effective implementation of the reservation policy calls for adherence to all the canons of equity, diversity and social inclusion.
Lack of willingness or confidence on the part of the potential beneficiaries is posing a serious challenge for the reservation agenda for women to yield positive results. Moreover, juggling with and balancing the responsibilities of both political life and domestic life is proving to be another impediment as per a study by the University of Bath. Factors such as lack of ambition, self-confidence, self-belief, and dedication are also resulting in subdued participation in the male-dominated political sphere. As per a study in the education domain, beneficiaries who are risk-averse and have an external locus of control also reported higher scores on fear of failure. In addition, these reasons coupled with lack of aspiration and hesitancy to establish the right connections preclude women from finding representation across all spheres of life.
The agenda of reservation inclusion can succeed only when it begins with a welcoming mindset. The reservation policy has resulted in a perceptible increase in the number of women joining the civil service from a meagre 8 percent in 2008 to a sizable 24 percent in 2018, boosting women empowerment. A better provision of public goods, especially concerning education and health, can be achieved through increased female representation in politics as per research findings in developing countries. In another instance, when the seats were earmarked for women through electoral quotas in Rwanda, their representation as parliamentarians and cabinet rank ministers was 56 and 33 percent, respectively, in the year 2011.
Political parties can get mileage and build a favourable image by leveraging and highlighting the success stories of women politicians as part of their inclusive political agenda through reservation. Sensitising, educating and training women about the impactful benefits of reservation should start as early as the school level. There are several success stories from countries such as France, Spain and Mexico, where a higher percentage of parliamentary seats are reserved for women.
Inclusion is essential
Although we have a Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare to look after the wellbeing of women across all spheres of life, not much progress has been made regarding gender parity through reservation. Like in all other ministries of previous governments, the gender focal points have mostly been men-centric. Even the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment National Action Plan of 2005 does not discuss reservation.
To sum up, inclusion is not an option but an imperative deserving a place in the common agenda across all spheres of life. Exclusion will prove very expensive in the long run should the abysmally low representation of women, especially in leadership positions, continues in the future also. It is distressing that the political parties are still hesitant to push the agenda of reservation for women. Women reservation and representation shall stay elusive and a dream as long as the existing sorry state of affairs persists in our politics and society in general. A country like Nepal can’t afford to keep diversity enhancement and inclusion through equitable reservation at bay any longer.