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Violence against women in politics

By breaking down barriers and fostering an enabling environment, women can take their rightful place as catalysts for change in various fields, including in politics and decision-making

Violence against women in politics

It is extensively recognized that the active participation of all citizens, regardless of gender, is essential for the construction and maintenance of robust democracies and the attainment of human development goals. Throughout history, women have consistently made substantial contributions whenever provided with the chance to hold public office or lead communities and informal organizations. However, only a small percentage of women occupy leadership positions across various government branches and decision-making levels. This imbalance underscores the unequal standing of women in society, resulting in restricted access to political and other opportunities coming from both governmental and societal entities. Achieving equality in opportunities requires a fundamental shift in perception. One of the primary challenges lies in cultivating confidence in women’s capabilities. Regrettably, a significant portion of the population remains hesitant to fully acknowledge women’s competence and assign them deserving roles because it is grounded in a misconception rather than a factual representation of intelligence. It is essential to recognize that these doubts stem from deeply ingrained beliefs, rather than an accurate assessment of women’s abilities. Overcoming this barrier demands concerted efforts to challenge and change these beliefs. By doing so, the society can work toward providing women with equal opportunities and promoting their participation and leadership across all sectors. 

In Nepal, women have consistently demonstrated their intellectual capacity to lead the nation and contribute to its development. The country’s history shows that women are no less capable than men. . Nepal’s political parties exploit women during elections and movements, only to neglect them once the events are over. This is due to the prevailing male-dominated mindset, lack of awareness, male biases, and the predominance of men in all political parties. These factors collectively impede women's active participation in politics and decision-making processes.

Several factors hinder women’s engagement in public life and decision-making roles. These include limited awareness of their rights and how to assert them; restricted access to information about laws, policies, institutions, and governing structures; issues related to self-esteem and confidence; and the need for an enabling environment that facilitates women’s involvement in decision-making processes. Economic dependency, inadequate financial resources, limited access to information, perpetuation of negative stereotypes in both family and public spheres, domestic responsibilities, intimidation, harassment, and violence further contribute to these constraints.

Regrettably, women’s participation in politics and decision-making roles has largely remained marginalized within Nepal’s political systems. Despite representing grassroots interests, many women lack political influence and access to decision-making positions. A few determined women politicians like Kamakshya Devi, Kanak Lata Shrestha, Sahana Pradhan, Mangala Devi and Astalaxmi Shakya have managed to overcome obstacles and violence to attain decision-making roles. However, the prevailing male-dominated nature of politics has dissuaded most women from envisioning politics as a viable career path. Those who do pursue this path often endure harassment and discrimination in a male-dominated field. The long-standing issue of violence against women politicians persists, often hidden due to the absence of platforms to voice grievances and concerns. Women politicians’ voices have been silenced by societal norms, political parties, the state, and individuals, perpetuating their suffering.

The deeply competitive landscape of male-dominated politics, coupled with patriarchal mindsets and systemic structures, presents a substantial hurdle to women’s political participation. The refusal of political parties to nominate a sizable number of women candidates obstructs women’s engagement in governance. That women are more likely to lose elections is not the issue; the underlying problem of group egos and hindrances to women’s capabilities is the real issue. This includes instances where certain women’s groups also add to these obstacles. In the realm of politics, power dynamics are apparent, predominantly favoring men. Women who aspire to claim this power encounter resistance and struggle against societal biases. Becoming a politician is not merely a matter of entering public life, it is also about managing personal and societal expectations simultaneously.

Two primary reasons contribute to women’s reluctance to engage in politics. Firstly, election aversion arises due to divergent political ambitions. Secondly, voter prejudice against female candidates, fueled by social bias, hinders progress. Many qualified women are forced to remain inactive due to these challenges. While some women accept the challenge and engage in elections, they often face limited success. It is imperative to critically analyze the root causes and devise strategies to foster the development of women’s political careers in alignment with their aspirations. 

It is clear that our Constitution seeks to ensure equal rights for all individuals. It guarantees fundamental rights, including equality and the right to a dignified life, for every citizen. However, when women endeavor to advocate for the enforcement of these rights and challenge the status quo, their actions often encounter resistance within society.

I am not implying that this sentiment applies universally, but a significant number of individuals are quick to cast doubt on women’s capabilities, often baselessly attributing any perceived shortcomings to their partners. This raises a fundamental question: What gives anyone the audacity to pass judgment without evidence? Furthermore, who granted them the authority to intrude into others’ private lives? Such behavior is not only objectionable but also undermines the dignity of those involved and tarnishes their reputation. Tragically, many individuals, often self-proclaimed, are not hesitant to label women as commodities to be blamed and criticized at will. This prevailing atmosphere dissuades women, particularly those from the grassroots, from embracing the role of change-makers. They weigh the potential risks against the benefits and find little incentive to undertake such challenges. It’s important to recognize that even women in higher positions face similar predicaments. There have been instances where a woman’s association with a high-ranking individual has led to accusations of direct or indirect corruption. Even esteemed figures like Hisila Yami, Arzu Deuba, Radhika Shakya, and our former president have not been spared such accusations.

This phenomenon raises the question: Why do people feel compelled to meddle in others’ private affairs, often overlooking the contributions these women have made, especially when their partners were actively involved in democratic struggles. Regardless of their individual achievements as engineers, teachers, doctors, social workers and more, they are often overshadowed by their companions’ identities. Is this not a form of violence against them too? It is imperative for society to shift its perspective, acknowledge women’s autonomy and capabilities, and stop unjustly blaming and interfering in their personal lives. A true understanding of equality requires recognizing and respecting each individual’s distinct contributions and potential. Only through such recognition can we truly foster an environment where women are empowered to pursue their aspirations without unwarranted hindrances.

Numerous women have distinguished themselves as political trailblazers and adept decision-makers in the present era. Many have showcased their talents and proficiency. Take, for instance, the accomplishments of individuals like Shanta Thapaliya, Lily Thapa, Sapana Pradhan Malla and Geeta Saungaula. These exceptional women have demonstrated their capacity to dismantle barriers, foster an environment conducive to creativity, and challenge social norms within their respective spheres. Despite these achievements, it is disheartening to witness how society tends to focus solely on their shortcomings, rendering their accomplishments as women secondary.

The paradox is evident: On the one hand, women possess the capability to excel in their roles and responsibilities, regardless of their field, experience, education, or personal contributions. Yet, on the other hand, they themselves often contribute to their own limitations in decision-making and other domains. This is not only a phenomenon within politics but also extends to other realms where opportunities are provided by both the government and society. When a few women manage to reach leadership positions, the need for an enabling environment and a supportive pathway for others are often forgotten.

Recognizing the critical role that women play in shaping policies, it is imperative to enhance their representation across all levels of political power structures and opportunities. Women occupying such roles should comprehend the ripple effects of their presence and advocate for their rights and authority without compromising their principles. Collaboratively investigating concealed truths and collectively asserting their presence in politics and decision-making are vital steps toward empowerment. However, this journey requires an understanding of individual identity, as intelligence alone might become a burden without a clear sense of self.

The government must adopt innovative policies and programs with robust implementation strategies. Establishing dedicated evaluation committees at various levels of governance can ensure effective execution. Political parties should examine their internal structures and processes, eliminating any form of discrimination against women’s participation. This might involve incorporating gender perspectives into party agendas and ensuring equal representation of women in leadership roles. Recognizing women as essential components of the political framework and acknowledging their voices as crucial to democracy’s strength can pave the way for an equitable, developed, and harmonious society.

The media can play a significant role in changing perceptions. By highlighting women’s accomplishments as decision-makers through feature articles and diverse perspectives, the media can empower women and foster political interest. When women see themselves depicted as capable leaders, they are more likely to engage in politics and seize opportunities without fear. Unity among women of different backgrounds is paramount. By amplifying a collective voice, women can dismantle barriers and create a more inclusive society. This unity will pave the way for meaningful participation in political and decision-making processes.

Summing up, a multifaceted approach is necessary for women’s meaningful participation in political and decision-making processes and their empowerment. Government policies, political party reforms, media representation, and women’s unity all contribute to shaping a more inclusive and equal society. By breaking down barriers and fostering an enabling environment, women can take their rightful place as catalysts for change in various fields, including in politics and decision-making.

The author is a Kathmandu-based advocate