Mangalsen women see no point in votingWomen of the remote Achham local unit demanded a ban on alcohol, introduction of women-centric programmes at the local level and accessibility to a good healthcare system, but their demands remain unaddressed.
For women in Mangalsen Municipality in Achham, problems are aplenty. From becoming victims of domestic abuse at the hands of their husbands to meeting the everyday household needs such as managing clean drinking water for the family, the local women say their demands for safer living, health benefits and fulfilment of their basic needs remain unaddressed and are not featured in the agenda of political parties who rally to seek their votes.
Forty-year-old Pashupati Sharma is a housewife and a mother of four. The resident of Ward No 4 of the municipality says the last time she voted, she did so because the political parties had rallied to end drinking water woes in the municipality when they came into power.
“But we are still struggling with the same issues. Women still have to stand in long queues to wait their turn to fill their water buckets,” said Sharma. “Shortage of drinking water is just one of the several issues women have to deal with everyday. Leaders come and go but the plight of women remains the same. We are only voters and nothing more.”
The women of Mangalsen had demanded a ban on alcohol since it’s one of the leading causes of domestic violence, the introduction of women-centric programmes at the local level and accessibility to a good healthcare system among other issues that have been plaguing them for decades.
“The women of Mangalsen and other local units in Achham have not seen any change in their situation,” said Sharma. “The sale and distribution of alcohol are still rampant even though reports of violence inflicted by men on women surface every now and then.”
The 2017 elections came and went but the promises made by the local leaders to address the demands of the women remained unfulfilled.
According to the data of the ward, ward 13 of the municipality has a population of around 4,000 people but has only one communal tap for the use of its entire population.
“All government-given public services are non-existent here. The situation of education, health, drinking water and sanitation in the villages is poor,” said Malati Saud, 28. “We also pay taxes but the leaders don’t consider that. They come to us only when they need us to vote. I voted in the last elections but nothing changed.”
Most women voters say that despite their repeated requests for positive changes, the local representatives have not paid heed to their demands.
“Our needs are basic but the local unit has not taken any steps towards making our lives easier,” said Sita Dhungana, a 28-year-old housewife. “We have to worry about household chores, childcare, managing livestock, running out of water and getting abused by our inebriated husbands.”
The shortage of water has affected the entire households in Mangalsen but the level of difficulties faced by women is twice-fold compared to men, says Sita Dhungana, an 18-year-old student of Shishu Sudhar Secondary School. She has to go to a river two hours from her house to clean up when she’s menstruating because her house does not have a water supply.
“I need to take a bath everyday when I’m menstruating. During those days, I walk to the river and back. I miss my classes for a week every month,” she said. “No matter who comes in power, women’s issues will always remain unheard.”
One of the foremost demands of the women of Mangalsen is the availability of a fully equipped health facility with maternity services since several women have lost their lives while giving birth at home.
For the residents of ward 13, the closest health post is five hours away. “I gave birth to my baby in the middle of a jungle on my way to the health post,” said Goma Dhami, aged 31. “I nearly died.”
Dhami is a ward member of ward 13 and says despite her position in the local level government, she has not been able to achieve what she set out to do.
“Women become a secondary voice in council meetings. Our demands are not heard,” she said.
Although women have been given a seat at the table in the local government, their voices are rarely heard, says another ward member Mysari Thapa. The 35-year-old says no one pays attention to her and her only job at the council meetings is to introduce herself.
“There is no one here to listen to the problems of common women. Women don’t see the point in voting anymore,” she said.
According to Ward Chairperson of Mangalsen Municipality-13 Prem Bahadur Thapa, the remote areas of Achham have been left behind in the development race in Sudurpaschim because of a lack of infrastructural development.
“But now roads are slowly reaching villages and development will soon follow,” he said. “Lack of drinking water, good schools and hospitals has always been a burning issue in the villages. It took us a while to get used to the federal system after the first elections in 2017. Now we are more in sync with what our people need and will work accordingly.”