Nepal is still a patriarchy. Girls are discriminated against within families, communities and society. Men from privileged castes dominate decision-making, they are disproportionately represented in the cabinet, the executive branch, the civil service and also in senior positions in the private sector. Men sit where it matters.
Yet, there are winds of change blowing across Nepal’s gender landscape. Nepal’s President, Speaker of Parliament and Chief Justice are all women, and nearly a third of Parliament is female. And now, the feminisation of Nepali politics is trickling down to the grassroots through new constitutionally-mandated quotas for women candidates in local elections.
With 90 % of the votes counted from the 14 May elections as we go to press, women have won 4 of the mayorships and 65 of the vice-mayoral in races to municipal councils. Women also won 8 of village council chairs and 263 vice-chairs, and 2,598 of ward memberships. The vice-mayors in all four metropolitan cities where ballot papers are still being counted are sure to be women as well.
Compared to the total number of male candidates this may not seem like much, but it represents a revolution in the way many new villages, municipalities and cities will be governed from now on. This election is putting Dalit women not just in policy-making positions, but also making them responsible for implementation. Nowhere else in Asia has this gender shift in governance been as dramatic, and it is the most vivid indication yet of the inclusiveness promised in the new constitution.
Let’s zoom in on the Hupsekot Village of Nawalparasi district. Laxmi Pandey of the NC became the first village council chair to be elected in last week’s election. But it didn’t end there. The vice chair is also a woman: Kopila Malla of the UML. By voting women from two different parties to the highest offices in their village council, the people of Hupsekot have demonstrated their confidence in female leadership.
Even conservative Jumla, which is still steeped in patriarchal values, made history last week by elected social activist Kantika Sejuwal of the NC as the country’s first female mayor. After the votes were counted it was another woman, Apsara Devi Neupane, of the Maoist-Centre who was elected deputy mayor in Jumla.
As more results come in, more women are being added to decision-making positions at the local level. There are twice as many candidates in the second phase of elections in 14 June, and this trend is expected to continue.
All this has been made possible by the provision in the new constitution mandating that every Ward Council must have a woman and a Dalit member. Parties were required to field a woman candidate in either the head or deputy in metropolitan, municipal and village councils.
Yet, there are places like Jumla and Hupsekot where both the head and deputy are both female. Some gender rights activists had complained before the polls that the female and Dalit quotas were ‘tokenism’. But the new Constitution is turning out to be a spectacular surprise — signifying a major shift in gender power balance in Nepal’s political history.
Including the excluded, Om Astha Rai
Double affirmation, Om Astha Rai
Madam Mayor, Guest Editorial
Radically decentralised, Dinkar Nepal
Autumn of patriarchy, Editorial
Land of our daughters, Editorial