Nepali Times Asian Paints
Leading by example


DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES: Women CA members participate in an interaction program organised by the CA Women's Caucus with support from UNDP and International IDEA on 3 September.
Women CA members are not who they were 16 months ago. With the help of workshops funded and organised by the UNDP's Centre for Constitutional Dialogue and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), a thriving women's caucus has taken up women's issues with flair and passion.

"We are close to success in ensuring our rights in the new constitution," says Dawa Sharma, coordinator of the Women's Caucus in the CA and Maoist CA member. The caucus has already prepared a charter of women's rights and provisions and submitted it to the CA chair for inclusion in the constitution. It has also been collaborating with different organisations to facilitate workshops and meetings on women's issues as well as electoral systems and fundamental rights.

The Women's Caucus spans the entire political spectrum but its members are conscious that ideological biases should take a back seat. "There is a profound understanding among us," says Mohammadi Siddiqui, co-coordinator of the caucus and NC CA member. "The CA members need not abide by the party whip."

The CA is historic in more ways than one. One third of its members are women from different communities and professional backgrounds. The Women's Caucus was formed to seize the opportunity to address the wide range of issues faced by women in our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, male-dominated society.

There was some scepticism initially. The very diversity of the Women's Caucus convinced some there would be little common ground. Others suggested many women CA members lacked the expertise to participate in discussions. But the caucus has already submitted its suggestions to all 11 thematic committees to be incorporated in the new constitution. "We are 197 members and we are united when it comes to our concerns. There is no way the CA can ignore our demands," Siddiqui says.

The Women's Caucus is lobbying for 50 per cent participation of women at all policymaking levels, inclusive and proportional representation in the new parliament and women's rights as fundamental rights in the new constitution.

"The new constitution should include a provision of compensation for violating fundamental rights as a deterrent to perpetrators," says Maoist CA member Sharmila Dura. She also suggests adding administrative rights to fundamental rights to ensure women's inclusion in the administrative sector. If they succeed, Nepal will join the ranks of just 15 countries that have a separate article for women in their constitutions.

Until very recently, Nepal had the dubious distinction of being among a handful of nations with lower life expectancies for women than for men. If the Women's Caucus gets its way, we may have real reason to be proud of the way we treat our women.

Shanti Devi Chamar

"The judiciary should not be under the control of parliament as this is against the universal principle of the independent judiciary," declared UML CA nominee Shanti Devi Chamar, criticising the preliminary draft reports and concept papers on the judiciary system being discussed in the CA session on Thursday.

She is not hesitant to speak out in the parliamentary sessions, and diligently does her homework before going to the CA. She does not feel the need to consult her party or experts, explaining, "The party whip is applicable only in Parliament, not in the CA."

A resident of Sauraha, Kapilvastu, Chamar is currently district member and the area in-charge of the All Nepal Women Association of UML. She believes that she was nominated by her party because she fought for Dalit women.
Numbers matter when it comes to pushing Dalit concerns. There are four CA members from the Chamar community, which has a population of 269,000 according to the 2001 census. But they represent different parties. "And that makes us helpless," Shanti Devi says.

Chamar is in the Committee for Determining the Form of Governance System of the CA and the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament. As a member of the latter committee, she gets to review cases of corruption and irregularities. "You simply lose hope sometimes when you see the scale of irregularities," she admits. But her new-found confidence is irrepressible. "Ministers and members of parliament were special to me but not any more," she says. "I am now one of them."

Krishna Kumari Pariyar

Nepali Congress nominee Krishna Kumari Pariyar has a single agenda in the Constituent Assembly (CA): an inclusive constitution.

"No one should be left out," says Pariyar, perhaps remembering her previous incarnation as a tailor in Shantipatan, Pokhara. A mother of four children, Pariyar was interested in politics since childhood. As a Dalit woman, however, a career as a legislator seemed like a distant dream.

When she was first nominated to the assembly, people treated her appointment with scepticism. The doubters were left speechless when she launched development projects in her district with the Rs 1 million budget allotted to CA members. She says the money was spent on projects according to public demand.

"I wanted to make sure people from all sections of society would benefit from the fund," she recalls. Now, Pariyar is busy advocating for women's rights in Parliament. She is hopeful her concerns will be addressed in the constitution, but has doubts about the implementation of the laws that will follow.

"If the previous provisions were implemented, women would have a different status already," she says. "Making laws is one thing, but its implementation is the crucial thing."

Pariyar is an active member of the CA, where she sits on the Committee for Rights of Minorities and Marginalised Communities, and she is also a member of the Legislative Committee of Parliament.

In spite of the ongoing tug-of-war, she is hopeful the constitution will be written within the stipulated time. "People elected us to write the new constitution. If we do not accomplish our task, we won't be able to face them again," she says.

Pariyar has no intention of returning to her old profession. "This is where every change is possible," she says of politics.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)