Nepali Times
"Male chauvinism keeps women from reaching high office"

Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Chitra Lekha Yadav was a teacher of English literature at Siraha Campus before being elected on a Nepali Congress ticket. Active in politics since her high school days, Yadav says it was B.P. Koirala\'s speeches, and not any ideology, that motivated her to enter politics.

Women in parliament
I\'ve always had faith in women\'s inherent qualities: their honesty and commitment. These qualities have helped establish them in politics as well. Though our society is patriarchal and male MPs outnumber women in the House of Representatives, the contribution or my female colleagues is as significant as that of the males. Women do their best to make the House effective and fruitful, and they are more sincere about promises made to their voters. Still they need more exposure and opportunities.

Gender main streaming
For some reason it is only women parliamentarians who are expected to raise women\'s issues. I think gender issues should be the concern of the state as well as of lawmakers, irrespective of gender. I believe it is the responsibility of all the MPs to help boost the participation of the weaker members of the society in the process of democratisation and national development. Women lag behind males in various social fronts, and that should be a matter of concern to people\'s representatives. Both male and female MPs should work together to make things better for Nepali women.

I would say some of my male colleagues are very sensitive to women\'s issues. Yet, there are others who are not so sincere when it comes to giving women equal opportunities. I feel that there should be a change of attitude in the House itself before we can expect that from the society.

Property rights bill
Parliament is divided on the proposed bill. Tremendous effort is needed to get the bill enacted. Girls and women are discriminated against from birth. They get fewer chances for education and other opportunities and are not allowed to decide anything for themselves either. I believe that inheritance and property rights will empower women to take their own decisions as it will help them achieve economic independence. Yet, I say our first priority should be education because knowledge and information empower people to decide for themselves.

Women as leaders
I come from a very backward community where women are still required to keep their faces covered in the presence of men. When I visit my constituency, I have to cover my head. Taking up politics as a career is a great challenge for any woman of my community. I would have been appreciated more if I had stuck to teaching. But I have this ambition to serve the larger community. But wanting to become an MP was not enough to win the election, so I lost the first time. Some of my male rivals spread the rumour that since I was a woman. I would not be able to raise the constituency\'s issues in the parliament. They convinced male voters that it was against our culture to have a woman leader.

But, the second time around, I was able to convince the voters despite the efforts of my male rivals. Between the two elections, I had built a close relationship with the voters and they were convinced of my sincerity and commitment to their cause.

I have been able to do my best to serve my constituency. I have also been able to maintain my neutrality in the House. I would say that being the second woman Deputy Speaker I feel I have been successful in convincing everyone that women are ready to take up more serious responsibilities. I feel women MPs can easily take up responsibilities higher than that of a Deputy Speaker. In a multiparty system everyone should get a chance, but male chauvinism and the traditional attitude of people at the decision-making level are preventing women from reaching high office.

Keeping the voters content is a difficult task. Almost a hundred young people visit my residence every day asking for employment that I just cannot provide.

The opposition
I am not the right person to evaluate the performance of the opposition in the parliament. But, as a member of the ruling party, I would say that the opposition has not been able to do justice to their role in parliament. They seem to be opposing the ruling party just for the sake of opposition. Ideological differences apart, the parliament should concentrate on seeking consensus on issues of national importance.
"Male MPs can\'t accept women in leadership"

CPN-UML MP Urmila Aryal quit her job with an INGO to fight parliamentary elections and was successful only in her third attempt. Born into a non-political family, Aryal was influenced by communism during her school days when she began reading pamphlets distributed by the then under-ground communist parties.

Women in politics
I was convinced that social change was possible only if somebody fights with full commitment. It was only when my husband found a well-paid job with a UN agency, that I was finally freed from family obligations and could get into active politics. As Terai society is conservative, people are not ready to accept a woman as their representative.

When I stood for elections the first time, people, especially women, would come out to listen to me. I thought they were in favour of me but later I found out I was mistaken. They wanted to observe me because I had entered a male domain.
Even my party workers were dissuaded from supporting me because of the conservative attitude towards women. I was also mentally harassed by rival candidates and their supporters.

After I lost the elections, I plunged into social work. I began a literacy campaign, started income-generation activities for women and helped them organise. This helped change the attitude towards women, and my hard work and commitment gained me a seat in parliament.

In the parliament Comparatively, communist parties are more open to the idea that women are capable of holding decision-making positions.
Yet a woman needs to work hard to establish herself in the House. I have observed that women are not encouraged to take leadership positions in parliamentary committees, neither are they encouraged to participate in debates and discussions.

A lot of male MPs still can\'t accept that women are capable of taking up positions at the leadership level.

It is easier to convince communist party members, but tradition has such a strong grip on them that they too display their conservatism from time to time. Male colleagues from other parties are more difficult to convince.

I believe women MPs, especially from UML, have been able to perform well. Yet there have been weaknesses on our part also. We have been lobbying for the enactment of the proposed women\'s bill.

We have been trying to form a group of women MPs to lobby for the passage of the bill, but we have failed to convince colleagues from the ruling party. Some of them are even against women getting property rights.

A few male MPs are also keen to get the bill passed. Our party has already issued a whip to support the motion should the proposed bill be tabled.

Gender mainstreaming
We have been demanding the establishment of a national women\'s commission. We have also proposed that MPs become more active in taking gender-sensitising programmes to the district and gradually to the VDC levels.
As a party\' to international.

conventions on women, MPs can play an active role in making the government realise its obligations for the upliftment of women in the country.

The international conventions and the Constitution both oblige the State to amend discriminatory laws. Parliamentarians have a major roles in educating the people at the grassroots level about women\'s equality.

But the fact is many of them are not aware about international conventions ratified by the country. We also need a national-level committee to accelerate this process.

The ruling party
The ruling party has failed to make the parliament effective. They do not consult the opposition on issues that are likely to affect the country. And they have failed to generate consensus regarding various national issues.

I evaluate myself successful as an MP. I have done my duty well. But keeping the voters happy is not easy. They need to be educated that recommending them for employment is not the work of an MP.

By demanding such favours from MPs and all kinds of financial support when they visit the capital, they should realise that they make parliamentarians corrupt. Because without extra-legal earnings leaders will not be able to fulfill such demands.

The yardstick to measure the success of MPs should be their performance in the House, rather than how efficient that particular MP is in realising voters\' personal demands. The voters need to be educated on role of parliamentarians.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)