Although just 18 women were elected to the top posts of 753 local bodies in the 2017 local elections, most of the deputy seats in metropolitan cities, sub-metropolitan cities, municipalities, rural municipalities, and their wards went to women.
Only 11 women were elected chairpersons while 424 were elected vice-chairpersons of rural municipalities. Likewise, seven were elected mayors and 273 deputy mayors.
So will the political parties field women for the top seats this time around? It is highly doubtful.
Hari Prabha Khadgi, deputy mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, says she doubts her party, Nepali Congress, will back her claim for mayor.
“I will be happy to withdraw my claim for the mayoral seat for a more capable and competent woman candidate. Or else, I do continue to consider myself the main contender,” she says.
Khadgi believes that women are good enough to lead local governments.
Geeta Satyal, deputy mayor of Lalitpur Metropolitan City, also says all incumbent women deputies are fit to be mayors and chairpersons. Like Khadgi, she too is seeking her party’s assent for her mayoral run.
Manju Gurung, deputy mayor of Pokhara Metropolitan City, has no interest in contesting upcoming elections, let alone vying for mayor. She says her five-year-term has come to an end and others should get the opportunity.
“But I strongly support strong and able women candidates in both head and deputy positions of local bodies,” she says.
Padma Kumari Aryal, a woman politician and former minister from CPN-UML, says while women are capable enough, they don’t have the financial means to lead successful election campaigns.
“Party leadership should not hesitate to field and financially support women candidates,” she says.
Shanti Limbu Bhujel, vice-chairperson of Morang Kerabari Rural Municipality, echoes Aryal’s sentiment.
“I want to be the chairperson this time, but then it isn’t easy for a woman candidate to arrange the requisite finances,” she says.
Ila Sharma, former election commissioner, sees electoral alliance among political parties as another factor that could not just sideline women candidates from top local-level posts, but also erode their overall representation in upcoming elections. (A political party must field chief and deputy candidates of different genders, but an alliance of parties need not.)
Sharma believes prioritizing women candidates alone is not enough. “There should be a rule guaranteeing women’s representation in top posts,” she says.
Sitadevi Yadav, former treasurer of Nepali Congress, is for starting a system of proportional representation of men and women in leadership positions of local bodies.
Nonetheless, women rights advocates see little hope of gender disparity narrowing anytime soon with patriarchal mindset still a dominant force in Nepal.
“We still think only men are capable of becoming leaders. This attitude must change,” says Kamala Parajuli, chairperson of National Women Commission.