The speakers at a Vote kaslai-Netri lai (‘Vote for whom?-For Women Leaders’) campaign program at the Open Air Theatre on Sunday, all of them women FPTP election candidates from Kathmandu Valley, rightly feared that all the talk of gender inclusiveness in Nepali politics might be just that—empty talk.
Although the Interim Constitution guarantees 33 percent women representation in the Constituent Assembly, the political parties don’t at all seem committed to gender inclusiveness.
This is evident in the paucity of women FPTP candidates. Of the 6,343 candidates in fray, only 672 are women (a measly 10.5 percent). Even the women who have been given tickets by major parties are being made to contest from seemingly unwinnable constituencies. For instance, Nepali Congress has fielded young and inexperienced Pratima Gautam against a seasoned campaigner like CPN-UML’s Madhav Kumar Nepal form Kathmandu constituency number 2. Suprabha Ghimire, one of only two women to win direct election from NC in 2008, was not even in NC’s PR list this time.
On average, only 12 percent of total election candidates of the three major parties—UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN-UML—are women. In the last 601-member CA, there were 197 women members: 163 were nominated by parties under the PR system, 30 were elected under FPTP system, and four were nominated by the government.
This time as well, the vast majority of women who will get into the new CA will have to be nominated under the PR list to make up for the shortfall from FPTP component. This is the wrong way to go about it. It is true that almost all the influential political leaders in Nepal are males. Since women have little influence among the broader electorate, they get to contest fewer direct seats.
Yet this is not a default arrangement. The truth is that women have been systematically sidelined in almost all the parties, big and small, and not been allowed to rise above a certain level in national politics. It is astonishing that women, who make up the majority of the national population, are getting to contest just 10 percent of direct seats this time. Surely, this is not a mark of a ‘progressive’ society, and surely not the ‘New Nepal’ that we want.
The representation of marginalized communities is not much better either. Dalits have been nominated for just six percent of FPTP seats (their representation in the national population is nearly 20 percent). This shows that the Nepali national polity still revolves around a small group of male leaders from the traditionally dominant groups who are doing everything in their ambit to hold on to their traditional privileges.
This is not to discount the tremendous achievements in making the Nepali society and polity more inclusive post 2006. The voices of the marginalized communities have never come out as strongly in the modern history of Nepal. But the country is still far short of the desired goal of establishing a truly inclusive society, one in which every section of the society has a proportionate representation and say.