Nepal has four national parties that got over three percent of the total votes cast in the last general elections. And all four are illegitimate. The Nepal Communist Party, the Nepali Congress, the Fed- eral Socialist Forum Nepal and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal have something terrible in common. The representation of women in them is well below the 33 percent threshold as required by electoral laws. It is also against the spirit of the new constitution.
NCP co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal recently admitted that his party was illegal for the same rea- son. No other top leader from the Big Four has been so forthcoming. But they are all the same: illegiti- mate. In the 441-member NCP cen- tral committee, there are only 75 women (17 percent).
Meanwhile, in the 84-member central working committee (CWC) of the Nepali Con- gress, there are 17 women (20.24 percent). Madhes-based parties, which have strongly raised the issue of inclusion, have also failed to ensure enough female participation in their party structures. In the RJPN’s 815-mem- ber central committee, only 129 women (15.8 percent) have been appointed and the 268-member cen- tral committee of the FSFN, a coali- tion partner of the Oli government, has only 28 women (10.44 percent).
It is not just within the formal structures of political parties that women are under-represent- ed. There are not enough wom- en MPs, ministers and appoint- ed representatives in important constitutional bodies.
Our five-part weekly APEX Series, ‘Women in Politics’, deals with this important but often neglected issue. (The first part in this issue focuses on women’s representation within political parties.) Nepal can never be an inclusive society unless women, who make up over 50 per- cent of the national population, are proportionally represented in all state organs.
How the major parties have become male bastions
On May 17, 2018, leaders of the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Center) jointly submitted an application to the Election Commission (EC) to register the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), formed after the merger of the two parties. The commission asked the new party to ensure that one-third of its central committee members are women. Initially, the EC took a firm stand that constitutional and legal provisions do not otherwise allow it to register a new party. Some commission officials suggested giving the NCP a month to meet that requirement. The party, however, was not serious about implementing constitutional and legal provisions. Instead, top party leaders started exerting pressure on the EC to complete the registration process at the earliest.
“They cited practical difficulties in running the party such as opening a bank account. The Election Commission couldn’t withstand the pressure and was compelled to register the party. It’s unlikely that the party will ensure 33 percent women representation before its general convention,” says a high-level commission official, requesting anonymity.
This means the NCP and other major parties are technically illegal. NCP co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has confessed that the party is illegal as it fails to ensure women’s representation as required by the law. Speaking at a public forum recently, Dahal said, “We have assured the Election Commission that we would ensure the representation of 33 percent women in our central committee. Currently, I feel that I am leading an illegal party.”
"They cited practical difficulties in running the party such as opening a bank account. The Election Commission couldn’t withstand the pressure and was compelled to register the NCP"
A high-level Election Commission official
Major parties that brought the inclusion agenda to the political forefront now seem indifferent to the issue of women’s representation. They have failed to set an example for other parties on the country’s inclusive policy. “The provision of 33 percent women’s representation is clearly mentioned in the law. I think big parties have a bigger responsibility to abide by legal and constitutional obligations,” says Ila Sharma, an EC Commissioner.
Article 269 of the constitution deals with the topic of inclusion at the time of a political party’s registration. It states: “There must be a provision of such inclusive representation in its executive committees at various levels as may be reflecting the diversity of Nepal.” Clause 15 (4) of the Political Party Registration Act says: “A political party should have at least one-third women’s representation in all its committees.” But despite such provisions and the fact that women’s empowerment and inclusion is a hot issue, political parties only pay lip service to it.
It has been 12 years since the constitution made it mandatory for political parties and state mechanisms to ensure 33 percent women’s representation. Women constitute over 50 percent of Nepal’s population, but their representation in political parties remains dismal. APEX has examined women’s representation in four parties, namely the NCP, the Nepali Congress, the Rastriya Janata Party and the Federal Socialist Party, all of which are recognized as national parties in the federal parliament.
A glaring example of inadequate women representatives is the ruling party, the NCP. Its women leaders are continuously urging top party leaders to ensure the representation of 33 percent women in the party’s structures. “The issue was raised in the party’s central committee and standing committee, but our demands haven’t been addressed. They should be fulfilled without delay,” says Nabina Lama, a lawmaker and leader of the NCP.
All the same
In the party’s nine-member Secretariat, there is not a single woman. In its 45-member standing committee, there are only three women (6.67 percent). And in its 441-member central committee, there are only 75 women (17 percent). The situation is similar in the party’s provincial committees as well, none of which have ensured 33 percent women’s representation. The total number of provincial committee members is 1,338, and only 271 (20.25 percent) of them are women.
Things aren’t different in the main opposition. In NC’s eight-member ‘office bearer’, the party’s highest decision-making level, there is only one woman (Treasurer Sita Devi Yadav). In the 84-member central working committee (CWC), there are just 17 women (20.24 percent).
Dila Sangraula, an NC CWC member, says although women’s representation in the party structure is at present below 33 percent, the new statute endorsed by the recently concluded Mahasamiti has made it mandatory. “In the upcoming general convention, the party cannot escape from ensuring 33 percent women in all party structures, from the grassroots level to the CWC,” she says. The new statute has a provision of one female in the party’s office bearer. Presently, the NC has, on average, 20 percent women in all its party structures.
Madhes-based parties, which have vociferously raised the issue of inclusion, have also failed to ensure the presence of enough women in their party structures. In Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN)’s 815-member central committee, only 129 women (15.8 percent) have been appointed.
The 268-member committee of the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal, a coalition partner of the government, has only 28 women (10.44 percent). Leaders of these parties say they are currently in transition and will ensure the representation of 33 percent women after the general convention.
The reinstated parliament in 2006 had, for the first time, officially endorsed the provision of 33 percent women’s representation, a provision that was further cemented in the 2007 interim constitution. While the representation of women in the civil and security services has been ensured, the situation in the top political parties is disappointing.
Top leaders focus primarily on placating dissatisfied party members, but do not seem serious about implementing the agenda of inclusion and elevating women leaders. A few months ago, Prime Minister KP Oli publicly said that the issue of women’s representation was driven by non-governmental organizations.
Women leaders believe that ensuring female representation and empowerment will help curb the growing violence against women. In the past 12 years, women leaders of major parties have made several efforts to ensure their representation in their party structures, but to no avail.
Women leaders lament that top party leaders portray them as weak and unable to perform their duties if elevated to top positions. To increase the presence of women in state mechanisms, the first step is increasing their representation in the political parties and providing them with leadership opportunities. The parties are failing on a major duty.
Historical evolution of women’s representation in political parties
Nepali Congress: The first central working committee (CWC) of the Nepali Congress elected in 1947 did not have a single woman. Neither did another CWC elected in 1950. In fact, all CWCs elected before 1960 lacked women representatives. The 31-member CWC elected in 1960 saw the representation of one woman. There is no official record of CWC formation and women’s representation during the Panchayat regime, as party activities were banned.
After the restoration of democracy in 1990, there was some progress in women’s representation in the party. The 18-member CWC elected by the eighth general convention in 1992 had three women representatives. The number remained unchanged for a few years. The convention held in 2001 elected only one woman in the 18-member CWC. In 2008, the number of women representatives in the CWC reached seven and in 2010 it increased to 17. Now, there are 17 women representatives in the 85-member CWC.
Communist parties: Before 1990, the Nepal Communist Party was the country’s mainstream communist party, although it suffered several splits. Records show that there were no women in the central committee (CC) of the NCP from the 1950s to the 1990s. After the restoration of democracy, the CPN-ML was the mainstream community force, which was later renamed the CPN-UML. In the first 17-member central committee of the CPN-ML in 1989, there was no woman.
The fifth general convention of the CPN-UML held in 1992 elected only one female representative in its 34-member CC. The sixth general convention in 1998 did not elect any woman as a CC member. Likewise, the seventh General Convention in 2003 elected four women in its 39-member CC, and the eighth general convention in 2014 elected 22 women in its 93-member CWC, which, though inadequate, is a huge progress.
Former Maoists: Data show that the Maoist party, which launched the 10-year-long insurgency, has not been serious about women’s representation in the party either. The central committee formed in 1994 did not have any women. In 2000, only four women were elected in the 51-member CC. In 2004, the number plummeted to nine. In 2006, only two women were elected in the 34-member CC. In 2006, in the 34-member CC, the number of women was only two, which remained unchanged till 2008.
In December 2008, the Maoists elected only 13 women in the 125-member CC. Then, in 2013, the party formed a 128-member CC but with only 23 women representatives. After that, the size of the Maoist CC varied substantially from time to time due to multiple splits, and there is no official record of the number of women representatives.
(Historical data in the article from the pre-1990 period have been borrowed from journalist Dhurba Simkhada’s book ‘Mulukako Muhar’ published by Himal Kitab)