Nepali Times Asian Paints
Take a stand


Last year's CA elections gave women 33 per cent of seats in the assembly and gave Nepal and South Asia good reason to celebrate. It was a fantastic victory for women across the region. In many constituencies women leaders from new parties crushed veteran male leaders from old parties. New women leaders were born and there was no stopping them.

Although the ratio of 33 per cent female representation was stipulated in the interim constitution, many feared the political parties would not adhere to it, but the women's lobby was so strong that they would not settle for anything less.

Not all of the women elected were political party leaders. Some were war widows and others had no training in politics. Some experts worried that since the process of constitution-writing involves a lot of legal matters those lacking the right education, experience or training may not cope.

The challenge for the veteran political party leaders and the women's lobby groups who fought so hard for greater representation to prove the skeptics wrong was a big one. But just because there are more women in the constituent assembly does not exactly mean the struggle for women is over.

The main agenda of the political leadership was not to get distracted from the constitution-writing process. There is no doubt that issues surrounding federalism, inclusion, ethnicity and representation of minorities are of great importance in the new constitution, but so are issues relating to women and children's rights.

Despite their initial victory the women CA members still haven't been able to discuss and channel their issues through the 11 committees, though each has at least one female member. Women CA members also claim they haven't forgotten what they promised and assure that their fight is still for 50 per cent representation in all sectors. So why is it that at a time when women's voices regarding equality in judiciary and administration should be the strongest that we do not hear them at all?

These are not new questions and women CA members have recognised their weakness in raising their voices in the CA. This is perhaps why a caucus has been formed in the assembly which will discuss and push these issues through but that alliance too is still very weak.

Women CA members were not elected to voice only women's issues in the assembly but it is important to keep it in mind that there is no one else who is going to do it for them. Asking for 50 per cent representation is not an unreasonable demand. Women make up 51 per cent of the total population of Nepal so why should they feel any sense of discomfort in asking for 50 per cent representation in the assembly?

Nepali society is not going to change overnight. Waiting for the patriarchy to end is a waste of time. During the collection of suggestions for the new constitution, CA members were warned by people all over Nepal not to repeat the mistakes of the past, to think beyond the Valley and speak up for the people who put their future in the hands of the elected members.

It is not too late for the caucus in the assembly to gain in strength. The women's movement all over Nepal must understand that the fight for equal rights is not over just because more women are in the CA. And it is important that the CA members do not forget that they are responsible for the women in the far west who die of sicknesses that are so simple to cure, of the women who live with a prolapsed uterus for most of their adult lives because they do not have health facilities, of the young brides in the Tarai and the hills who are beaten up and kicked out of their homes because they did not bring in enough dowry, or of the young girls who are burnt because they are 'witches', of the widows of war who are waiting for reparation, and of the wives who wait every day for their husbands who were disappeared during the war years to come back.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)