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Women struggle to find a solid footing in the parliament

Anushka Nepal

Anushka Nepal

Women struggle to find a solid footing in the parliament

Dila Sangraula of Nepali Congress says constitutional mandate is the only way to ensure female participation in politics and change our society’s attitude towards women leaders

Women’s representation in Nepali politics has always been minimal. Although Nepal is one of the few countries with female presidents, it still lacks an adequate number of women representatives in parliament.

The number of women representatives in parliament have been fluctuating since the first general election of 1959, which had only one woman lawmaker, Shree Dwarikadevi Thakurini. In the subsequent parliamentary elections, Nepal elected 8, 7, 12, 197, 176, and 90 women lawmakers respectively.

The constitution of 2015 does not mandate to have a certain percentage of women in the House of Representatives, but only dictates that there must be one-third women representation when considering the elected women from both first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional candidacy.

“Because there is no such mandate for the House of Representatives, parties refrain from putting female politicians forward in the FPTP,” says Dila Sangraula, a Nepali Congress leader. “Our society and political parties are not ready to see women in leadership positions.”

Amrita Thapa Magar, of CPN (Maoist Center), echoes Sangraula. “Our society is evidently patriarchal. Party members and even the public are still not well-adjusted to seeing women in powerful positions.”

Analyzing the past data, we see a significant increase in the number of women representatives in the election of 2008, when 197 women representatives were elected to the Constituent Assembly.

“This was because the Maoist party that had just joined mainstream politics gave a higher number of FPTP candidacy to women representatives,” says Lok Raj Baral, political analyst.

The party didn’t maintain that number in the following elections.

Even in this year’s federal election, women candidacy in FTPT is high, but most of them, according to Baral, belong to parties that are unlikely to win the election. Old established parties have fielded fewer women candidates.

“This automatically decreases female participation in the House of Representatives,” adds Baral.

Krishna Khanal, political analyst, says that the male-dominated political parties of Nepal are not willing to make any effort to increase women representation in  any field, not just politics and parliament.

The possibility of a female politician winning an election becomes even slimmer when they run independently. This year’s local elections can attest to this fact.

When campaigning independently for the seat of deputy mayor for Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Sunita Dangol didn’t get as much support as people showed after she joined the CPN-UML.

Most people in Nepal still favor parties over candidates, making it quite difficult for even the worthy candidates to win an election.

“The established parties are already male dominated. Their leaders and central members are mostly men. There’s no space for the female candidates,” says Khanal.

Sangraula says it’s also up to women leaders to fight for their rightful place in Nepali politics. “Expecting someone to leave their position to increase the number of female representation will take us nowhere.”

She believes that unlike political parties, their leaders and members, the general public is highly in favor of women leaders.

“The majority of the people, I believe, are willing to support a promising female leader. It’s just the political parties, their leaders and members who aren’t willing to trust women,” adds Sangraula.

Magar agrees with Sangraula. “I can confidently say that most Nepalis are willing to put their trust on a female politician.”

Khanal, on the other hand, does not agree with Sangraula. He believes that Nepali society is still male dominated and that it is still not ready to be led by women.

“It’s the unwillingness of our society to elect female leaders that is affecting the female candidacy,” he claims. “No party will field a woman candidate knowing that the people are unlikely to vote for her.”

Sangraula says a constitutional mandate is the only way to ensure female participation in politics and change our society’s attitude towards women leaders.

Sangraula, Magar and other women in politics are hopeful for a better future for women in Nepali politics, though. They say increased political awareness among Nepali youths and the growing acceptance for an inclusive society are reasons to be optimistic about.

“As the society changes its attitude, the parties, too, will be more accepting of women politicians,” says Sangraula.

 

Election year Number of women representatives
1959 1
1991 8
1993 7
1999 12
2008 197
2013 176
2017 90

Source: House of Representatives, Nepal

Caption: Number of female politicians in the House of Representatives in the past seven elections.