Women serving as deputies at local units aspire to take up executive rolesAs local elections near, women representatives, however, doubt the male-dominated parties where patriarchy is deep-rooted will make way for them.
Namita Yadav, a medical doctor by profession, joined politics around a decade ago. In the 2017 local elections, she was fielded for the deputy mayor post of Siraha Municipality by the CPN-UML. She won.
In the last four and a half years, while working as the deputy mayor, Yadav, a doctor of medicine in gynaecology, has served patients from her area voluntarily.
Prior to joining politics, she worked as a gynaecologist in Kathmandu and Janakpur.
“I would have made money had I continued my profession as a doctor,” she told the Post. “But I find my job as a deputy mayor more satisfying. I am serving people in two ways—as a local representative and a doctor.”
Now that she has experience, she says she will run for the mayoral post in the upcoming local elections scheduled for May 13.
“It is natural for me to demand the mayoral position,” she said. “I am competent enough to lead my municipality.”
But she is not sure if her party will field her for the mayoral post.
The last local elections saw women getting elected in huge numbers. Of the 35,041 elected representatives, close to 41 percent (14,352) are women. Over a third of women were elected as per the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal and the Local Level Election Act. Article 38 (4) of the Constitution of Nepal gives women the right to participate in all bodies of the state on the basis of their proportional inclusion.
The Act also makes it mandatory to field a woman as a candidate for the chief or deputy chief at the local level. It also provisions that among the four ward chairpersons, two must be women—one of them Dalit.
But Nepal’s political parties fielded most of the women for deputy positions in what is viewed as the top leadership’s reluctance to give decision-making positions to women.
Of the 14,352 women local representatives in 753 local units, only seven are mayors and 11 chairpersons. The number of women vice-chairpersons or deputy mayors stands at 718. The number of women candidates fielded for mayor or chairperson posts by the parties was just 190.
“It is known to all that political parties across the spectrum do not trust women in leading positions,” said Yadav.
As the election date is nearing, lobbying has started in parties for various posts.
Yadav, currently a member of the Department of Local Level of the UML, said she is coming to Kathmandu to put forth her demand before the top leadership.
She is one of the 718 women deputy mayors or vice-chairpersons who are eying the mayoral or chairperson post this time.
“I certainly make a good contender for the mayoral position. My contribution too has been crucial in what the metropolis has achieved in the last five years,” Geeta Satyal, deputy mayor of Lalitpur Metropolitan City, told the Post. “I have already put forth my demand before the party leadership.”
Satyal is a general convention representative of the Nepali Congress.
Along with presenting their demands before the party leadership, the deputy mayors and vice-chairpersons at the local level too have started consulting with party cadres and voters to create a favourable environment for them.
Prem Kumari Sunar is deputy mayor of Musikot Municipality in Rukum West. She ran for the election on the CPN (Maoist Centre) ticket. She says since her party has always championed the inclusivity cause, she believes the party would agree to her demand that she be given the mayoral ticket this time.
“Last time I was assured by the party that I would get the ticket for the mayoral position in the next elections. The time has come,” Sunar told the Post over the phone from Musikot. She has some doubts though.
“I intend to contest for the mayor. But I cannot be sure until I get the ticket,” she said.
Most of such aspirants for the executive roles in local governments the Post spoke to say they can perform better than their male colleagues. According to them, it’s high time the parties and their leadership started implementing the inclusivity and equality principle, rather than just talking about it.
Experts and women leaders have long been saying that despite projecting themselves as “progressive”, the top leadership of all the parties still cannot digest women in leading and decision-making positions.
Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe, a Standing Committee member of the UML, said she had already told the party leadership to prioritise women deputy mayors and vice-chairpersons while selecting candidates for local elections.
Before she was appointed a minister in the KP Sharma Oli government, Tumbahangphe served as the deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“I have interacted with several women representatives at the local level. Trust me, most of them are capable of leading local governments,” she told the Post.
In an interview with the Post in February 2020, Tumbahangphe said that patriarchy is structural in Nepal. After Krishna Bahadur Mahara resigned as Speaker following rape allegations, Tumbahangphe, who has a docorate degree, had said that she was well qualified to become the Speaker. But amid a political tug-of-war in her party, she was denied the Speaker’s post.
“I cannot say how many women would be fielded for mayor or chairperson posts from my party because of male domination in the decision-making level,” she said. “But I believe the number will definitely increase.”
Women leaders at the central level say since the patriarchal mindset is dominant at the top level of the party structure, chances are high that women aspirants’ claims for mayoral and chairperson posts could be scuttled.
Chitra Lekha Yadav, a Central Working Committee member of the Nepali Congress, says women in all parties must continue to pressure the top leadership not to limit them to deputy positions.
“We will also continue to pile pressure on the leadership to pick women candidates for decision-making posts,” Yadav, who has served as an interim Speaker and a minister in the past, told the Post. “Hopefully, we will see good representation of women at the executive level this time.”