Of 753 local governments in Nepal, only 18 have women municipal heads. The constitution mandates that political parties field one male and one female candidate for the top two positions in local governments. But most women got to contest only the post of deputies. In other words, political parties continue to prefer male candidates in the main executive posts. Pratik Ghimire of ApEx talked to Prabha Baral, Mayor of Rapti Municipality, Chitwan, about her experience of leading a local government and women’s overall representation at the local level.
How do you evaluate your five years as mayor?
As we were working under a new political setup, a large part of the past five years was spent on building the foundation for smooth functioning of our local government. We constructed buildings for municipal and ward offices and passed some municipal laws to begin with. We also set up health posts in every ward and rebuilt schools and homes damaged in the 2015 earthquakes.
As our municipality is surrounded by the Rapti River and the Chitwan National Park, a considerable amount of time and effort was also spent to prevent monsoon floods and wildlife incursion into human settlements. We built an embankment along Rapti to stop river-water from spilling over during the rainy season and destroying crops and properties. We also erected a concrete fence along the areas bordering Chitwan National Park to limit human-wildlife conflict. Then there is the problem of landslides in parts of the municipality that fall in the hilly region. We are trying to address this through an afforestation campaign.
So overall, the past five years were productive. I think our work proved the worth of local bodies.
Did you experience any challenges as a female mayor?
Personally, I did not face any challenges or difficulties while executing my work. But there were some times when I felt that my judgments and decisions were being questioned just because I was a woman. Other than that, my experience of leading the municipality was good.
How was women’s participation in your municipality?
It was pretty good because our municipality provided different skill-based training to almost 700 women in these five years. These training sessions helped them to get jobs and start small-scale businesses.
Many women now feel empowered. They can speak in front of the mass, participate in municipal programs and raise questions before officials.
The municipality also formed a welfare committee comprising women leaders from all political parties to provide various platforms and opportunities to local women. As part of the women's welfare program, we also made sure that the construction projects under the municipality were primarily led by women.
Why do you think the country has only a handful of women mayors?
We have tried to create an environment where men and women get equal opportunities through our constitution. Nepal is on the path of change, which doesn’t happen overnight. We only have 18 women municipal heads right now, but I am certain this number will rise.
A few women including myself were given the opportunity to lead our respective areas, and I believe all of us executed our roles well.
Our work helped break the stereotypes that hindered many women from reaching leadership positions.
Do you have any suggestions for political parties to increase women’s participation in local bodies?
Just give us a chance. Then you will see women are as smart and competent as men. I believe the current crop of women municipal heads is more progressive compared to male municipal heads.