When local elections were last held in Nepal nearly two decades ago, only 20 per cent of those elected were women. This time, the ratio could go as high as 40 per cent.
Polls on 14 May will likely elect at least 13,000 women to various posts, including mayor, deputy mayor and village council chief. And at least 6,000 of them will be from the Dalit community.
“It is a big thing,” says Sarala Yadav, a former MP from Rautahat. “For Madhesi women, it is even more important.”
The Local Level Election Act 2017 requires political parties to nominate at least 50 per cent women for major posts. For example, if a party fields a male candidate for mayor, it must nominate a woman for deputy mayor. But it does not mean that if a female is nominated for mayor, another female cannot be fielded for deputy mayor. The Act has also made it mandatory for parties to nominate at least one Dalit woman for municipal and village ward committees.
So when 36,644 representatives of the people are elected next month, at least 13,300 (36.2 per cent) of them could be women. Considering the possibility that women can also be elected through non-reserved quotas, the percentage of women on local government councils may go up to 40, or even higher.
A recent report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) puts Nepal at the top among Asian countries in terms of women’s political representation. The latest report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranks Nepal 48th globally for women’s participation in Parliament.
Nepal’s legislature is now 29 per cent women while the public service is 35 per cent. Local elections could set another milestone in women’s political representation.
There is still no guarantee, though. For example, a municipality could have men as both mayor and deputy mayor. This would happen if people elect a man from one party as mayor and another man from another party as deputy mayor.
Political parties often face charges that they field women candidates only in those constituencies where they are not favourites to win. So women’s rights activists say parties must be honest when they select candidates for local elections.
“This is an opportunity that should not be squandered,” says Nirmala Sharma of Sancharika Samuha, an association of women journalists.