Fewer women this timeUnderrepresentation of women in politics has long-term drawbacks.
Just when you start to think that Nepal’s political scene is getting better in terms of representation of the marginalised, it manifests its Achilles' heels to remind us that not everything is rosy. The local level elections after Nepal adopted federalism showed a grand promise when it came to women’s representation in politics, with 41 percent of the elected representatives being females. As the elections to the second term of the local governments come near, it would be only natural to expect the number to rise. However, the opposite became the case, with only 37.84 percent of the total candidates this time being women, raising concerns that the number of women candidates who actually win might come down yet more.
Of the 152,465 candidates contesting 35,221 positions in 753 local units this time, only 57,705 are women. This is a gross underrepresentation of women in a country that boasts of a higher number of women than men in the national census. There is no re-stating the argument that a higher number of women at the local level potentially means a better redressal of women’s issues locally and ultimately leads to the formation of a more equitable and just society. However, neither the Election Commission nor the political parties in the fray seem to have bothered to increase the number of female candidates in the upcoming local level elections.
Section 17 (4) of the Local Level Election Act 2017 mandates a political party to field a woman candidate for either the chief or the deputy chief at the local level. However, the provision is not applicable when a party fields a candidate for one of the two positions. For the parties looking for ways to curb the number of women representatives, the loophole came as a boon. Political parties have used this legal loophole to field a maximum number of male candidates, and this has decreased the number of women contesting the chief and deputy chief positions. The Election Commission, meanwhile, failed to fulfil its moral obligation to ensure maximum participation of women in the upcoming electoral contest.
Leading the race to curtail women’s representation in politics is the ruling alliance of five parties, which came up with a plan to defeat KP Sharma Oli’s CPN-UML, who, during his tenure, had gone out of his way to dismantle democratic institutions, including Parliament itself. In waging a joint struggle against Oli’s undemocratic ways, the alliance seemed to respect the ideals of democratic politics. But alas, it has undone its earlier commitments by choosing to ignore the demand for increasing women’s representation and fielding a greater number of male candidates in the upcoming local level elections.
Desperate to win the elections by hook or by crook, and depending on candidates who often have the money and muscle power to back them up, the parties have depended on male candidates in their pursuit of power. However, what the parties have failed to understand is that underrepresentation of women in politics has long-term drawbacks. Now that they have used the legal loopholes to increase the representation of male politicians, the onus is on the people to decide who best represents them. However, it is also necessary to break the structural barriers that restrict women’s access to the political process in the first place.