A ticket for herThe old practice of fielding wives in their husbands’ former seats continues.
Women’s empowerment has been a buzz word for quite some time. Yet, their voices are shut out all too often. Their place in society is, more often than not, defined in relation to their male counterparts—often as someone’s wife, daughter or sister. Very few women are persons in their own right, and there is remarkably little to say about their part in political life. A fitting example of this is when women are allowed to hold office through widow’s succession, a system under which the widow of a dead politician is elected or appointed to his seat.
Most political parties in Nepal are now preparing for by-elections to be held on November 30. The old practice of fielding wives in their husbands’ former seats continues in these polls. It is not to say that giving them a chance to be part of the political sphere is wrong. It should be encouraged. But what is wrong is when they are fielded only once a vacuum is felt, and when they are the second choice, not the first.
Bidya Bhattarai, the wife of Rabindra Adhikari, who was the minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation, is now contesting a seat in the federal Parliament from Kaski Constituency 2 which became vacant following her husband’s demise. Similarly, Bimala Oli is contesting the provincial by-elections from Dang Constituency 3 (B) after the last incumbent, her husband Uttar Kumar, died earlier this year in a road accident. Both the women received tickets from the Nepal Communist Party. But in the past, other parties have followed similar practices.
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.
The 2015 constitution guaranteed 40 percent female representation at the local level and 33 percent representation in the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. Currently, women hold 14,352 out of the total 35,041 seats at the local level—a nearly 41 percent share. At the national level, the 33 percent quota has translated into women holding 90 out of the 275 seats in the House of Representatives and 22 out of the 59 seats in the National Assembly.
On the surface, women’s representation has increased over the years, and this is a welcome change. But when it comes to them leveraging their power and having a say in decision-making, it might take a while. Because with representation, the next step should be political power without which it will be impossible to bring in substantial and far-reaching change.
The gender of the representative has typically been a result of a hierarchy of sexes where men exercised control over women. But the argument for women’s empowerment is irrefutable—a democracy without women is just half the democracy since a significant size of the population is not wholly engaged equally in decision-making. More women need to be in politics to rectify the imbalance, and diversity in decision making will only help make societies more progressive. For this, along with ensuring quotas, they should also be considered as political beings without tying that identity with their male counterparts.