This is an article from yesterday’s daily Kathmandu Post on the inclusion of women in political bodies and parties.
The illusion of inclusion
KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI
FEB 15 – Following the political upheaval that was witnessed in the country in 2006, and the establishing of a republic two years later, the issue of women’s empowerment, and their inclusion in all sectors of the state mechanism, has been probed with regularity in discussions within and between major political parties. Women, after all, constitute 51 percent of the total of Nepal’s population, and it was considered something of a feat when the Interim Constitution came to stipulate a 33 percent representation for women in all state apparatuses. But while most major political parties have been pushing for women’s inclusion in theory, when it comes to the internal organisational set-up of these very parties—whether at policy, district or grassroots levels—patriarchal mindsets still appear to reign supreme.
A glaring instance of this could be seen at the UCPN (Maoist)’s seventh general convention, held in Hetauda at the beginning of this month. Efforts were clearly visible on the part of female delegates to acquire more seats for women within the party’s powerful central committee; a team, led by politburo member Hisila Yami, had demanded 33 percent representation. But the leadership didn’t budge, and the convention—one that was held after a two-decade hiatus—ended with only six women chosen to be included in the 98-member committee, and none picked to be among the seven office-bearers of the party.
Major parties have long been scrambling to prove themselves the most farsighted when it comes to the inclusion agenda within identity politics, but figures point to similar incongruences in
practice. In fact, the NC, often deemed one of the most non-inclusive of the big parties, actually has more female representation in its central committee than the others—17
out of 80 members are women. Women leaders like Pushpa Bhusal say they are in the process of pressuring party leadership to appoint more women in the remaining five seats of the committee, but the outcome is still uncertain. As for office bearers in the NC, only one is female.
Then we have the CPN-UML, which claims to have more proportional representation of women at its organisational level, a claim that has, however, proven to be little more than lip service. Although the party has one female office bearer—Bidhya Bhandari—who is also one of its vice chairpersons, in the UML’s 115-member central committee, only 22 are women. During its eight general convention, the party leadership had pledged to raise the number of female representatives, but no development has been seen in that regard thus far.
The newly-formed CPN-Maoist hasn’t fare much better either when it comes to countering the marginalisation of women in top positions in the party. Only six out of the current 43 central committee members are women. However, with the party’s recent decision to expand the CC into a 51-member body, leader Jayapuri Gharti has expressed the hope that perhaps the new appointments will incorporate more female representation.
In all, the role of women candidates in the top levels of political parties, and various facets of the state mechanism, has continued to be severely curbed. In the current 18-member cabinet, for example, there are no female ministers, and out of 49 government secretaries at the various ministries and departments too, no women have been chosen. This means that women in Nepal are still deprived of a legitimate voice in national debates on issues of significance, whether it is the peace-process, the drafting of the constitution, or government formation.
“One rarely sees women involved in cross-party talks on major issues,” says NC’s Bhusal. “Women leaders still lack the kind of agency they would need within and outside of parties to play an influential role in decision-making.”
If women in the country are to be truly empowered, and if issues like violence against women are to see the kind of emphasis they deserve, proportional representation within all levels of major parties is a must. If parties really are committed to countering patriarchal attitudes, and really want to be seen as inclusive, instead of merely advocating for women’s participation on a broad level, they would do well to start by looking inwards.
Posted on: 2013-02-16 08:41
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