Nepali Times
Third of the sky



When the constituent assembly sits next month at the Chinese-built conference centre in Baneswor, the chamber will have a fairer touch than previous parliaments. At least 200 of the 601 members will be women.

Despite concerns before the election that women members might not reach the 33 percent ratio stipulated by the interim constitution ('Same old 'menstream' politics,' #394), the latest results of the first- past-the-post ballot show that 29 women have won. The proportional representation ballot guarantees 168 seats for women, making the total number 197, which is 34 percent of the 575 elected representatives.

"This is a great victory for all Nepali women," says Sarala Lama of Sa-shakti Nepal, a women's party that contested this election. Of the 29 women directly elected, 23 are Maoists, two each are from the NC and MJF and one each from the UML and TMLP.

In constituencies like Gorkha-1 and Bardiya-1, which used to be strongholds of the NC and UML, Maoist women candidates have trounced veteran politicians like Chiranjibi Wagle and Bam Dev Gautam.

"In this election people voted for transformation, therefore it is not surprising that Maoist women have defeated these old leaders," says Sarita Giri of Nepal Sadbhabana Party (Anandidebi).

Advocate Sabita Bhandari Baral of the Nepal Bar Association agrees that Nepalis were desperate for change, and it was the failure of the old and male politicians to realise this that brought their downfall.

Some elected representatives are war widows. Experts on women's issues welcome this, but also raise the point that that since the process of writing the constitution of a country is complicated, it is crucial to have legal experts who understand women's issues in the assembly.

But Giri isn't so worried. Women were elected because people trust them to be good leaders, she says, and anyone who says the elected women did not go to school is just trying to discourage them.

Sarala Regmi, who defeated UML's Bam Dev Gautam (17,955 to 13,773) is back in Bardiya, visiting voters in her constituency and thanking them for their support. Regmi has been with the Maoists since the 1990 People's Movement but went underground when the Nepal Army killed her husband in 1998.

Representation of women in parliament
General Election (1999)
CA election (2008)
12/205 (5.8%)
168+29/575 (34%)

During the war Regmi used to go from village to village and got to know many of her constituents. "It was extremely hard for some sections of our patriarchal society to accept that women were on the frontline, sacrificing their lives," recalls Regmi. "Now they doubt us and say we will not be able to write a good constitution."

She is confident gender issues will be given high priority in her party and trusts that some of her women counterparts will be leading various committees.

Gender campaigners warn that women's issues should not be sidelined by party politics, and the rising profile of women brings an urgent need to restructure political parties to make more room for them. "The biggest challenge and obstacle for women is still the male-dominated leadership in the political parties," says Giri.

Similarly, coordination between MPs and activists is imperative to lobby the government on women's issues. Sushila Shrestha of the Beyond Beijing Committee says: "This group will not let any issue go off its radar. We will work as a support system for women MPs, and help to push women's agendas."

Voters across Nepal made women win, now they wait expectantly to see if that will make a difference in the way politics is done.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)