Women in chargeFemale lawmakers now head half of the House committees
Over the decades, governments around the world have taken steps to increase women’s representation in legislative bodies. Most countries have adopted a quota system to increase women’s legislative influence. Of course, there is a long road ahead to achieve equality; but to overcome it, Nepal, on its part, set aside 33 percent of the parliamentary seats for women. In fact, Nepal leads in South Asia when it comes to representation of women in Parliament. It is also among the 11 countries in the world with a woman head of state.
Last week, eight women Members of Parliament from the ruling Nepal Communist Party were nominated as chairpersons of the thematic committees under the House of Representatives. Female lawmakers will now head 50 percent of the committees in the federal parliament.
An increase in the number of female chairs will have a straight impact on the visibility of women in Parliament. It may even inspire more women to play a role in the committee system and politics itself. With women chairing legislative committees, it will provide women access to power and authority. What’s more, apart from the stereotypical feminine domains such as Women and Social, Education and Health, and so forth, this time around they have received powerful committees considered to be male-dominated areas like International Affairs and Labour, Development and Technology, and State Affairs and Good governance.
Women have been at the forefront of major political changes in Nepal. Be it during the revolution against the Rana regime in 1951 or the movement to abolish the one-party Panchayat system and establish a multiparty democratic system in the 1990s, they distinguished themselves with their active participation. A significant number of women also participated in Jana Andolan II in 2006 to oust the monarchy and make Nepal a federal democratic republic.
Despite their impressive participation in politics, women have not been able to come out in the limelight as leaders. An underlying reason for this is the patriarchal structure and conservative mindset that permeates political life where leadership is still predominantly considered a male attribute. But, this should not be an excuse for women who are now in charge to deliver substandard performance during their tenure.
Women bring a different style and experiences to the committees they head. Their presence and leadership can have a tremendous impact on the way policies are designed and strategies are implemented. Therefore, as committee chairs, women should display tenacity and bold thinking that will help illuminate big issues in Parliament. They should also scrutinise the government and produce reports while maintaining the independence of the committees.
When people see women empowered with legislative leadership, their ideas about women’s role in society begin to change. They may even begin to view women as more capable political leaders. But for this, the newly appointed chairs must prove themselves. They must make sure their selection is not merely an act of inclusion, but that they are truly capable of leading and bringing about change.