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A rethink on women’s representation

The fundamental goal of representation of women in politics is that “women bring to politics a different set of values, experiences and expertise”

A rethink on women’s representation

Claims of political equality are central to the normative theories of democracy as contemporary democracy has transformed from the ‘politics of ideas’ to the ‘politics of presence’. The Lincolnian aspirations of democracy as “by, for, and of the people” suffice no more, for the rulers are the same, the co-optation of whom the political institutions serve is narrow, and the encompassing diversity in social positioning renders it difficult for empirical democratic practices to mirror the norms on political equality. In such a scenario, the ideals of inclusive representative democracy are still fractured by the lack of gender parity in formal politics. 

All over the world, politics has been a masculine domain and Nepal is no exception. The tussles between muscular presence leave minuscule space for women representatives. The positioning of women in society to a great extent corresponds to the political sphere, so the alienated experiences of women in the societal sphere seep their way into politics. Although some women representatives are presented at the forefront of politics, it’s men who still hold the strings. The structural positioning of women has indeed created biased experiences of political institutions against them, but it would be a reductionist statement to blame only gender by isolating other forces it interacts with as the stirring force of inequality in Nepali politics. 

Intersectional forces 

The fundamental goal of representation of women in politics is that “women bring to politics a different set of values, experiences and expertise” thus, the emphasis on equal representation of women and initiatives for affirmative action are taken. It justifies representation extended to women based on their essential identity rather than their social position. The former argument reduces women into a homogeneous group, who withhold similar interests—whereas, in the case of Nepal, this essential identity intersects with various dimensions of caste and class. Other variables such as ethnicity, religion, region, academic background, differed abilities, and sexual minorities purport these differences to create complex social positioning, which forms sectional and distinct identities of and as a Nepali woman. A Janajati woman, a Brahmin woman, and a Badi woman—all three will narrate to you three distinct experiences each has despite a compulsion to take up the universal identity of Nepali women; their narratives of oppression certainly differ. 

The identity as a ‘woman’ does not exist in a single axis but it is interactive with other compounding variables that induce social stratification such as class, ethnicity, geographical location, etc. Such inter-sectional identities form “minorities within minorities”. Although gender acts as a common ground, there are other bases on which the subjugation of already marginalized demography is purported; thus, the provisions that aim to provide representation appear as one-dimensional and fail to encapsulate diverse categories existent within its presumptive category of “women.”

The space as a de-facto woman leader in Nepal is acquired by a Khas-Arya woman. She is likely to have undergone some of the same experiences as a Dalit or a Janajati woman, more women from the upper strata of society reap benefits from the provisions on gender equality and inclusivity than the marginalized women. The talks, the bold ambitions on countering gender parity lie neglectful to the spirit of equal representation in Nepal—which is to bring into discourse, tackle, and best represent their constituents and their problems. The mere fulfillment of a statistical requisite is hailed as a mark of gender equality or an attempt to it whereas equity becomes a lost cause in representation. 

The contemporary spirit of representative democracy consists of the fundamental expectation that those who are being represented are mirrored by their representatives in terms of experiences of their respective socio-political life. Thus, an essential account of intersectionality as an ontology and method of ensuring representation is a prerequisite in the contemporary political scenario of Nepal.

Representation for recognition 

The phenomenon of the convergence of politics with identity and recognition is something that has amassed mixed reactions. The mainstream Nepali nationalism is always resistant to the rise of ethnic and regional nationalism. Anything that challenges or merely lifts the smokescreen of a universal identity of a Nepali citizen shakes the very spine of our vain slogans on “Vividhata ma ekata.” 

This pattern of creating a universal and reductionist identity follows a similar trajectory in creating the identity of a Nepali woman. What is woeful of the absence of recognition is not the lack of affirmation of identities but the captivity of distinct identities as one. Even within the groups that lie as subordinate, the existing inequality is fostered and a hierarchy is established within the subjugated categories of people. Such layered inequality is formed by an ever-present patriarchal bias at its foundation. 

It is high-time recognition is viewed as a political goal. For a nation, which places diversity as a defining attribute, a rather paradoxical stance is held when it comes to acknowledging “ the politics of difference.” The very same diversity that crafts the vanity of being a Nepali is construed as a threat when it comes to its acknowledgment. Representation of diverse identities in mainstream politics gives autonomy over creating one’s identity, selecting a narrative for themselves, which they were devoid of in the course of historical schema.

Thus, recognition is an antecedent to the affirmation of identities. Equal representation for women representation in Nepal is no political epiphany but  newer and broader discourses as to its necessity are in dire need to be entertained.