WOW | Coffee Break
Women In Politics
Although there is a rise in women politicians, male counterparts stand at a considerable forefront making key decisions. In this edition of WOW, Pabita Dahal speaks to four women in politics to learn what they have to say. Excerpts:
Interviewed by: Pabita Dahal
wow photo file © Ram Tandukar/Gokul Shrees
How do you evaluate the current state of women politicians in Nepal?
Kaushila: If we evaluate the current state of Nepal, widespread participation of women can be observed in comparison to the past as the Constitution compels women’s equal participation in every body of the state. Women politicians are also fulfilling their duty becoming more forward, committed and concerned.
Arati: After an almost seven-decade long struggle, Nepal has turned into a Federal Democratic Republic having the first woman President, ensuring 33% of women’s participation at the centre, and more than 40% at the local level of government – this is progressive. But it is dissatisfying to see women representatives’ rarely getting seat into direct elections. It shows reservation on women’s capability to win the trust of people. Mostly, women enter the parliament through proportional representation. Another problem is that most of the women representatives are in secondary positions rather than the vital posts of decision making and policymaking. We exist but not at an influential level.
Ranju: There are immense opportunities for women politicians now in Nepal right from the local level to the central level. But the opportunity is given not based on their capacity rather it is given for the sake of feminist movement. Still, I am really happy that women representatives are honest and responsible towards their duty.
Do you think gender discrimination exists in politics?
Maheshwari: Of course, the fossil of gender discrimination still exists in Nepali politics and it is a subject to think about. Like other sectors, the existing level of women empowerment is inadequate to cut out the long roots of patriarchy in politics. It is patriarchy and traditional thinking that fuels gender discrimination. Female voices are suppressed by saying “Pothi baseko ramro hundaina.” They still hesitate to provide a decision making roles to women leaders.
Kaushila: There is widespread gender discrimination in politics due to the false perception that all women are not educated so they cannot stand up for themselves, they need the help of male counterparts. They get the position not because of their capacity but because of the provision of law. Because of this perception, people do not trust female leaders.
Arati: There is obvious gender discrimination in politics. When the country was struggling, women also went underground and actively fought for political and social change putting aside their families and children. Asta Laxmi Shakya is a prominent example. But now when it’s time to take leadership roles, the same women are called backward. If Shakya was chosen as a Chief Minister, it would have been a matter of pride that her contribution and sacrifice were duly considered, instead there was internal conspiracy that did not let it happen. We have to struggle for our rights and position all the time within the party. Male counterparts have forgotten our contribution and sacrifice. They solely take positions in planning and decision making thinking that women are there just for the sake of being there and that they cannot contribute effectively. Women’s presence is not enough even when deciding on women’s issues.
Ranju: As a mirror of society, gender discrimination exists within politics too. Little changes have taken place but most things are still guided by patriarchy. They give less importance to females as well as their ideas. If we analyse the situation from a different perspective, only registered political members are not influential in politics. The major determiners are the citizens who give votes to the representatives. And most of the voters support male leaders and discrimination starts right from there.
In which development sector are Nepali women politicians majorly involved?
Maheshwari: Mostly Nepali women politicians are involved in primary sectors like agriculture, education, health and women empowerment. Further, they are fighting against violence and for child rights.
Kaushila: As education is the milestone of development, I am reinforcing it. But overall, women politicians are contributing to all sectors rather than pointing out any one particular domain.
Arati: Typically, women are involved in awareness programs more than economics and infrastructure. They are still fighting against gender discrimination, so they are spreading awareness to make other women strong theoretically, ideologically, and practically. But if we observe the condition at the local level, women politicians are mostly given duties related to law and justice.
Ranju: Mainly they are involved in soft issues like children and women. Also, they are compelled to serve for such problems because male leaders are not concerned about these important issues. If all authorised persons consider women issues as the whole society’s issues, women would get the opportunity to serve in other sectors too. The example is Padma Kumari Aryal who is serving as Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation.
How do you think woman politicians can make a difference?
Maheshwari: Around the world, women now have more influence over the decisions that affect their lives. Women politicians can bring progressive changes in women’s rights. There is a common assumption that women are more likely than men to make policies beneficial to women and children. And they are progressive and peaceful in doing things.
Kaushila: Our society is male dominant. Even now, men do not have much faith in women. But women can alter this viewpoint by being better prepared and stronger in their decision making.
Arati: Women are brutally honest in fulfilling their responsibility. They look at every problem as their own and try to solve these sensitively. By nature, they are more interested in social justice and welfare. So, they can do best in these domains and become an inspiration for other women, like Anuradha Koirala and Pushpa Basnet. Moreover, they are accountable. Considering this quality, the party committees usually gives the responsibility of treasurer to women.
Ranju: Women can make proper and practical decisions and policies in women related problems since they have first-hand experience of the situation. If such policies are made and implemented sincerely, it is good for women and society as a whole.
Despite the rise of women politicians, it is the male voice that prevails.
Maheshwari: The fact that the male voice prevails in decision making keeping aside half of the population is not justified at two levels: human rights and social justice. Political nepotism that favours men should be abolished. Female leaders should not be treated as subordinates. The major political parties and advocacy groups for women’s political rights should focus on women’s participation in politics as well as in other policy-making and decision-making levels.
Kaushila: Parties should not be bound by gender while choosing members for vital positions. They should give importance to the capacity of doing work. If the law announces certain qualifications for political leaders, gender will not come in-between and qualified women leaders would get space irrespective of their gender.
Arati: The only weapon that compels male politicians to take their female counterparts seriously is our level of awareness and opinion. It is women who can ensure their space. So, they should be aware of social and political issues along with their duties and responsibilities. They also need to acknowledge that politics is the only medium to be heard to ensure our rights. If we do not update ourselves, the male voice will always subordinate us. We should prepare on theoretical, ideological and practical levels for any kind of debate and situation. Male counterparts also need to comprehend that the same women had contributed equally in the past to bring this social and political change. They can make a difference by focusing on equal opportunity and motivation. Also, self-empowerment and support from family, society and colleagues are equally important.
Ranju: Male counterparts think that women do not have a strong opinion, they cannot express their ideas properly and their vision is less important. Yes, some do face problems in expressing their ideas since they do not have political experience, but there are also people like Ramkumari Jhankri, Padma Kumari Aryal and Dr Binda Pandey who can take a stand for themselves. These women have a strong educational backgrounds. So, women empowerment through education is crucial to be heard at the policy-making level.
How much support do female politicians receive from the media in comparison to their male counterparts?
Maheshwari: Due to long-rooted patriarchy, people evaluate female leaders as lesserbeings and believe that they have weak opinions. The media also gives less importance to the female voice . It was only after people’s movement of 2062/63 BS that females came into politics actively and the media started to show some interest in them. But even now they do not get as much importance as males.
Kaushila: In my experience, media gives more importance to me than my male counterparts. The reason maybe that female mayors are lower in number.
Arati: There is huge discrimination in terms of media. Only women related media houses give a platform to women politicians. Most media search for male representatives for information and argumentative debate programs. The media invites and promotes male politicians to share their perspective on political and social issues. They give less importance to females. I am not saying that women politicians should get a chance because they are female but they also have vision and opinions as leaders.
Ranju: Women are given very little space in the media as most of the media heads are male. They rarely promote the contribution of women politicians like Yogmaya Neupane who raised her voice for the first time against Sati ritual and gender discrimination. They may assume that women cannot express their opinions properly. Yes, some women politicians have problems expressing their thoughts since they may not have that experience in the past. But media people themselves can guide them to some extent by giving them pre-information about questions and expected answers instead of skipping out on them altogether.
Other than gender discrimination what are the challenges faced by women in politics?
Maheshwari: Women leader have to fight in layers, firstly with family, secondly with society, and finally with their political competitors. It is very tough for them to go for a long run in politics. Besides gender discrimination, social and religious beliefs like women should not go out, they should perform only subordinate roles, and hurdles that appear during and after elections affect a woman’s political career.
Arati: First of all, entering politics is the biggest challenge for women. Once they enter then they have to struggle to compete with their male counterparts at every step. One of the major challenges for women other than gender discrimination is finance. Fighting elections has become exorbitant these days. Even internal elections require minimum four to five lakhs which is difficult to manage. Another problem is the perspective of society towards women politicians as they are deemed as women with loose character. Also, most women cannot continue their political career after marriage due to lack of family support.
Ranju: Financial insufficiency and dependency and lack of strong networking are the non-gendered challenges for female politicians. So, it has become mandatory to provide quality education to make women resilient, self-confident and economically independent. If it is not possible for all, at least they must be literate to understand that politics is a place where policies and rules are based on our regular life. It is not something bad. If women acknowledge this, and they show concern towards politics they can build up PR automatically which is crucial in a political career.