Youth Women Leaders in Politics: Nepalese perspective [Part I]

Women’s meaningful participation itself is a big challenge in the Nepalese society with patriarchal thoughts, where young women’s contribution and involvement in politics has not been recognized yet in the way that ought to be even though the number of females in politics is increasing and their contribution in political change is remarkable.

In context to the Nepalese society, progress can be seen through the human development index and equal right to women has been ensured through the Constitution as fundamental rights and voting right provided to male and female at the same time [Nepal has secured a spot in the HDI with medium development as 144th in both 2014, and 2015]. Yet, women are still treated as a group to be protected, and those who are not able to practice their independence without the support of men.

In this situation young women’s participation in politics is seen as a challenging area whereas their authority in decision making is yet a dream. However, amidst the challenges new steps allowed some young women to become leaders in governance, and an example is the Nepal’s head of state, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, a woman who began her involvement in governance from a young age.

Historical development of women in politics can be traced from 1918 during the Rana rule, when women leaders led a movement in opposition to the Rana regime promoting women’s education through establishment of a women’s committee [with the end of the Rana regime in 1951, both male and female got voting rights; and females took part in politics as well with no legal or social barriers] Since then women have made efforts to find a place in decision making positions in Nepal more so after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990. Although some 57.4% of the Nepalese women are literate, and 60 percent of them are said to be economically active (CBS, 2011), participation of women in politics is negligible.

Women’s representation in the parliamentary elections held in 1991, 1994 and 1999 stood at less than 6%. In 1997 based on the ‘royal decentralized ordinance’ representation of women in the local election increased to 20%. The percentage of women’s representation in the Cabinets formed following the elections in 1991, 1994, 1999, and 2008 is 8.6%, 9.1%, 23%, and 17.4% respectively. Forty one cabinets were formed in Nepal between1994 to 2008 where 43 women became the ministers comprising of 4.8 % of women in the cabinet in this period (WDN and RSN 2009).

Political involvement of women is essential to maintain gender equality. Women’s political participation and leadership are not the only necessary factors for general peace and prosperity but they are necessary factors. Young women are being involved in politics with aspiration to bring positive changes in the society and to bring women in mainstream of the nation. 52% population of Nepal is woman but still it is a challenging task for woman to be politically strong. The Local Level Election Act 2017 has made it mandatory for political parties to consider female candidates for half of the executive posts (Mayor/Deputy Mayor), and for at least 40% wards membership. Total number of candidacy in the first phase and second phase election was 49,337 and among them female were 19,332. Although, total number of candidacy for mayor post was 1,880, only 157 among them were females.

Until local election was held in Nepal, young energetic female politicians were not in lime light. But with the initiation of the local election to institutionalize the federal government, a number of young female arose, and along with them a glimpse of hope rose as well. Further Nepalese legal system has played a vital role to promote female participation in politics by stating that at least 40% candidacy ought to be of female.

As per the Election Commission, in local election held 20 years ago, among 3,913 VDC, only 20 (0.51%) female in post of ward chair and 14 (0.36%) female as deputy chair were elected.  Though none of the females were elected as mayor of the municipality, in the local election held in 2015 A.D, 6,012 young representatives from 21- 40 were elected in this local election and among them 1,391 were female. Similarly, among 6,012 young representatives 75 were elected as mayor and ward chair position.

However, the challenges in youth female participation in politics further extends with the large number of them leaving to overseas for education and employment. The interest of young women to join the governance is very low. A study data reveals that 122 thousand females and 1,352 males of Nepal are abroad; and among them 65,163 females and 1,287,824 males have left for employment and 28,362 females and 94,343 males for studies.

Added to this is, the patriarchal assumptions of Nepal’s society, who fail to applaud the courage and commitment of the young women in Nepal’s governance. These notions have become a major challenge to women, preventing them from enhancing the sphere of their involvement in leadership. Likewise in the family surrounding, even the political family finds it uneasy and unnecessary to listen to the female members. The Nepali proverb ‘Pothi baseko ramro hoina’, is compared to a hen’s crowing, which means that females raising voices is bad. The prosperity that is associated with a cockerel’s crowing is considered a bad symbol when the hen does the same. Anuradha Thapa Magar unlike the other female politicians often raised her voice in the parliament and during other instances.

Both the men and women of the society challenge women who involve in politics. Their character is challenged, their future of marriage is challenged, and their decisions are challenged. Due to this many are silent representatives of the government. Though the numbers show increase in female representation in politics, the question is if the reason behind is to show off the adherence to laws, and fulfilling of the assigned quota; or is it purely for the gender equality in governance.

Ensuring to mainstream women in politics to merely increase number of women as representatives is not enough. Along with representation, there need to be a meaningful participation of women.

Whilst, participation of young women in politics is forwarding toward progress in Nepal, there is a requirement to pave a path not only to encourage young females into leadership, but also to make them raise their voices in decision making.

Ms. Laxmi Bakhadyo | Nepal