Nepal’s new Constitution requires all political parties to choose women either as chiefs or deputy chiefs of recently elected self-governing local councils. Political parties blatantly disregarded the spirit of this provision by fielding women candidates mostly for deputy mayor or deputy village chiefs.
The parties received a lot of flak for not showing faith in the ability of women to lead municipalities and village councils, but another provision of the same Constitution may partially redress the injustice.
Article 217 has given the responsibility to head judicial committees (JCs) of local councils to deputy mayors or deputy village chiefs, which means that women will lead most local courts because nearly 90% of deputy mayors and chiefs are women.
566 of the 617 municipal and village councils elected in the first two phases of local elections have women as deputy mayors and deputy village chiefs. They will be heading three-member JCs responsible to hear and rule on disputes related to land, other properties, cattle, communities and natural resources. Their precise jurisdiction and roles will be determined by a law that is now in Parliament.
Advocate Nirupama Yadav, who was the Sajha Party’s candidate as deputy mayor in Kathmandu, says: “If women head local JCs, it will increase women’s access to justice.” Mediation and reconciliation committees will also be set up under these committees, which will function exactly like district courts. But all deputy mayors or deputy village chiefs may not have the necessary knowledge and skills to head local courts.
So the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) is preparing to train all deputy mayors and deputy village chiefs on the roles and responsibilities of local JCs, how they function and how cases are mediated and reconciled.
“Once these local courts come into effect, most property disputes will be solved at the local level,” says Dinesh Thapaliya, MoFALD Secretary. Hari Prabha Khadka, deputy mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, says their roles as local judges will be huge, but they are capable of this. “If we face legal or technical problems, there will be experts to help us,” she says.