Nepali women packing a punchNepal occupies a respectable 16th position among the 133 countries regarding the proportion of elected seats held by women.
Local units are the foundation of democracy because they take service to the people's doorsteps. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they distinguished themselves with their excellent handling of the crisis compared to the federal and provincial governments. The constitution has ensured that the local units include women, Dalits and backward classes and communities. It says there must be at least one woman representative and one Dalit woman representative in each ward.
According to local-level election laws, political parties must nominate one woman out of the two candidates for chairperson and vice-chairperson of a rural municipality and for mayor and deputy mayor of a city. But this rule only applies if they nominate more than one candidate. This has drastically reduced women's representation at the local level, with the parties forming electoral alliances and nominating only one candidate out of the two posts as part of their deal.
After the revolution of 1951, Nepali women demanded their political right to vote and be candidates in elections. And in the municipal election of Kathmandu Municipality in 1953, Sadhana Devi Pradhan became the first elected woman representative. In 1968, Dwarika Devi Thakurani became the first woman minister in the history of Nepal. Following the reinstatement of multiparty democracy in 1990, local elections were held in 1992; and among the 44,462 representatives who were elected, 212 were women, accounting for 0.48 percent.
In the 1997 local elections, women were elected as ward chairpersons in only three wards among the 803 wards in 58 municipalities. And in the 3,917 village development committees, 20 chairpersons and 17 vice-chairpersons were women. Overall, the presence of women at the local level was 9.85 percent. After the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, two local-level elections have been held. In these elections, women's representation reached 41 percent.
A total of 35,041 representatives were elected in the local-level election held in 2017. Among them, 14,352 were women, accounting for 40.96 percent of the total. In the 2022 election, the number of women representatives reached 14,466, or 41.22 percent of the total. If we consider 1992 and 1997 as the basis, there has been a big improvement in the representation of women at the local level.
It is necessary to reform the thinking that political parties only choose women for the deputy mayor or vice-chairperson. This is a political issue. But the truth is that after the country's federalisation, the representation of women at the local level has improved significantly. Women running here and there for their political rights under the unitary system have now become the decision-makers. They work as the head of the judicial committee at the local level. At some local levels, the number of women is more than half.
After the constitution was promulgated in 2015, some political parties representing Madhesh province called it a black constitution. But it is because of this constitution that there is a strong presence of women at the local level in Madhesh province. For example, there are 18 women out of 37 representatives in Pipra Rural Municipality of Mahottari district and Chandrapur Rural Municipality of Sarlahi district.
The beauty of the constitution is the assurance of proportional, inclusive and participatory representation. The constitution has ensured at least one-third representation of women in every organ of the state. But at the local level, women make up more than one-third of the representatives. If we compare the representation of women at the local level here and in other countries, we see that Nepal is way ahead.
As per a report published by UN Women in 2021, the chart below reflects the proportion of elected seats held by Nepal compared to various developed countries: Nepal occupies a respectable 16th position among the 133 countries.
Local-level elections could not be held for nearly two decades due to the Maoist conflict when the country had a unitary governance system. After the country's federalisation, the local level has been empowered, and through the elections, there is a larger presence of women. If Nepal had not accepted federalism, there was no certainty that there would be elections at the local level. The achievements made at the local level should be attributed to federalism. It is necessary to increase the presence of women. Further, it is essential to strengthening the federal governance system.