|DOING THE ROUNDS: UML candidate for Kathmandu-8 Astha Laxmi Shakya goes door-to-door in Sitapaila last week. |
Laxmi Bista was preparing breakfast in Sitapila when the election campaigners arrived at her doorstep. She has met several candidates who have come house to house here on Kathmandu's outskirts to ask for votes, and she has now made up her mind.
"I will vote for a woman candidate," she says resolutely, and looks on as UML candidate Astha Laxmi Shakya's entourage passes by. Laxmi is encouraged by the number of women contesting in this election, and believes more women in the parliament means a pro-women constitution.
Still, out of 3,947 candidates in this election, only 367 are women. When the constituent assembly sits 200 (33 percent) of the 601 MPs will have to be women. The proportional representation ballot (PR) guarantees 168 seats for women. In the first-past-the-post ballot (FPTP), the parties have selected 10 percent women candidates for 240 seats.
But it is clear that only a few women will win in the FPTP ballot, and this will mean the proposed 33 percent ratio for women in the assembly is unlikely to be reached.
Hisila Yami, Maoist candidate for Kathmandu-7, is confident that more women MPs will make a difference. "We have never been this inclusive in terms of ethnicity or gender," she told Nepali Times.
But politicians from other parties are not convinced. "It is a ploy to deprive women of our rights," says Uma Adhikari of Inter-Party Women's Alliance, who is concerned women have not been given the recommended number of tickets. "It is not that the parties don't have capable women, but deep-rooted patriarchy screens out women who are proactive, capable, and smart," she says.
The PR vote may also not be as democratic as it should. Party leaders will choose their representatives according to the proportion of their overall vote. So voters have no way of knowing which of the up to 335 candidates on the PR lists will be selected. Central selection procedures are likely to favour men.
Sujita Shakya of the All Nepal Women's Association says that the parties have deliberately put prominent women in seats where they are bound to lose. "Women who were sure to win from their area have not been allowed to contest in FPTP, and those women who were selected are either contesting in places where they have no influence, or in strongholds of other political parties," Shakya says.
Kopila Adhikari of the Advocacy Forum wonders how many capable women will actually end up as MPs. "We need qualified women in parliament who can speak up for the rest of us, but the parties have basically selected token yes-women."
Sociologist Krishna Bhattachan advises women to take steps right after the elections to ensure that they are not sidelined in the constituent assembly.
He suggests pressuring the political parties to recommend names of women for top positions, organising an inclusive national women's conference to work on a separate draft of the constitution, and advocating their cause in the streets.
Says Bhattachan: "The stronger the pressure from the outside, the more effective decisions are going to be inside the parliament."