Discourse and realityDespite the political rhetoric of women’s empowerment, the state of Nepal’s women remains bleak
In Nepal, even in the 21st century, the condition of Nepali women presents a bleak picture of humanity—they continue to be burnt alive for not bringing in enough dowry or practicing witchcraft. Nepali women are circumscribed within a ‘line’ that society has drawn around them. Though politicians talk about the socio-economic transformation and empowerment of women, they have failed to ensure even basic personal security rights for women.
Nepali women have fallen short of proportional representation in the government’s local level power structure. The Local Self Governance Act 1999 had provisioned ensuring at least one woman from each ward of the Village Development Committee. Now, this Act itself is under amendment. It is said that the amendment will ensure at least 40 percent women’s representation in all local governance bodies across the country. This, however, is just the policy side. The reality of implementation presents a different picture. Nepal’s chronic disease seems to be its ability to maintain a large fissure between policy formulation and implementation. This problem owes to the prevailing gap between the rhetorical commitments of political parties and the government and their realisation. Women’s rights to decision making have remained limited to paper. Real empowerment is only possible when mainstream politics views space for women as essential to the decision-making process.
As education helps people think differently, focusing on education for both men and women is essential. Unless both are equally educated, the gaps prevalent between them cannot be dismantled, and without dismantling the gaps, gender-based discrimination cannot be eradicated.
In Nepal’s post-conflict phase, issues of recognition and redistribution have emerged as primary. Moreover, some political parties have used these issues as a means of maintaining their political stances. Besides political superficiality, the misrecognition of women on a massive scale has resulted in socio-economic injustice, oppression, and stigmatisation.
Not just representation
It is quite dismal to state that all the political parties and almost all sectors in Nepal are dominated by males. Even in the mainstream national newspapers, there are no women chief editors. There is no university with a woman as its head. Women’s issues, it seems, are being misused for political gain. The women’s movement in Nepal has primarily been escorted by ‘elite’ women from the mainstream political parties. Obviously, they work to serve interests of their parties, rather than the genuine interests of common women. This is one of the reasons why Nepali politics has failed to incorporate women issues effectively. Because of a lack of sensitivity and understanding of mainstream leaders, women’s issues have been deemed trivial. Women’s issues have always been a discursive practice for winning votes during elections.
In the new constitution, there is a demand for proportionate representation for women. However, there are very few women in the CA on the one hand, and on the other, woman’s identity is a complicated issue that differs in terms of caste, religion, race, education, and profession. How can the few women CA members represent the entire spectrum of Nepali women?
Still, there have been changes regarding women’s rights. They have equal rights to vote and now, they have equal rights to property ownership. Unlike in the past, one can ‘legally’ get citizenship through the mother’s name. But that too might change, given the current state of the citizenship bill in the CA. The question is still of effective implementation. The laws may have changed but not the mindset. Traditional social attitudes toward women remain backward and conservative. When it comes to citizenship, single women and unwed mothers are humiliated. This situation explicitly mocks the provision of equal rights.
However, merely providing rights to women cannot address their real problems. Proportionate inclusion of women in policymaking processes is key to empowerment. The women’s movement should focus first on their representation. Herein, recognition and redistribution have been raised the most. Women from marginalised communities like Dalits and Janajati have come to the forefront, demanding their rights. However, the practical implementation of these issues has remains complex, as the new constitution has yet to be drafted. To attain all these, pressure should be given from the social level to political leaders to ensure strong socio-economic and political rights for women in the new constitution.
Pranjali is the author of Tuin, a Jumla-based novel