THE REPUBLIC OF MEN: UML candidate for parliamentary polls in Kaski constituency 1, Khagraj Adhikari (second from eft), during his election campaign in Pokhara on Thursday, while most of his voters are women. None of the 11 candidates in this constituency is female.
Men and women have fought together to achieve all of Nepal’s recent political developments. But when it comes to reaping the harvest of democracy, men seem to be able to outsmart women.
When Nepal holds its first parliamentary and provincial elections under the new Constitution on 26 November and 7 December, men and women will be participating in the electoral process in almost equal numbers. But their roles will be largely different: while mostly men will be contesting elections, women will mostly be casting votes.
Of the 1,945 candidates who have entered the electoral fray for parliamentary elections, only 146 are women. And only 240 of the 3,239 candidates for provincial elections are women.
“We boast of having a woman President, but the men are still the real rulers,” says Mina Dhakal of the UML, who had to give up her candidacy to accommodate a man from her own party. “It is still the men who decide how many women they want in the Parliament.”
Since one-third of the members of Parliament and the provincial assemblies must be women by law, political parties will be obliged to nominate more women under the proportional representation (PR) quotas. Rejina Bhattarai of the Nepal Women Association says that ensuring their 33% representation through quotas instead of giving them a chance to contest polls is an insult to women.
“No matter which political party they belong to, all the men always gang up to stop women from coming to the frontline,” says Bhattarai.
Nepal has more women (51%) than men (49%). But the percentage of female voters (49%) is less than that of the male (51%). Election Commissioner Ila Sharma says: “It underscores an uncomfortable truth that women are still less politically aware than men.”
The gender breakdown of voter turnout shows that more women cast their votes than men. This is mainly because more men migrate for work than women. But their greater turnout doesn’t really mean that women have more influence than men over electoral outcomes. This is because a significant number of women voters opt for candidates chosen by their husbands, fathers, uncles or even brothers.
Sociologist Chaitanya Mishra says: “Men, especially in villages, engage more in social interactions, so they end up influencing how their wives vote.”
Of men, by men, for men
Last month, UML headquarters instructed its local committee to recommend three candidates for parliamentary elections from Kaski 3. But there were four aspirants – two men and two women – and nobody agreed to back off.
So the party decided to hold an internal election to choose three candidates, but two male aspirants were not required to enter the fray. The voting took place only to choose one of the women aspirants.
NC parliamentary candidate Devraj Chalise with supporters in Kaski-3
Says ex-MP Sita Giri, who was defeated: “It was just an example of how men always cheat women in politics.”
Giri raised the issue of discrimination, but says party Chair KP Oli didn’t really listen. “He (Oli) said: ‘I’ll see, but he never sees it.”
The problem is not just within the UML. All the three major parties (NC, UML and Maoists) have fielded only 24 women candidates for parliamentary polls, aiming to ensure their 33% representation through the PR quotas.
In Nepal, the number of male voters is (7,776,627) higher than that of females (7,651,140) even though the male population is actually less than the number of women. Some districts with a higher rate of outmigration have more female voters, but even these districts have very few women candidates.
In Jhapa, for example, female voters outnumber male. But only 2 of the 57 candidates contesting parliamentary elections in five constituencies in the district are women. The UML-Maoist alliance has fielded just one female candidate. The NC has not chosen a single female representative. Most of these candidates are pitted against heavyweight candidates like UML’s Oli, NC’s Krishna Sitaula or RPP’s Rajendra Lingden.
Similarly, only 4 of the 83 candidates contesting provincial elections in 10 different constituencies of Jhapa are women. Most of these female candidates have been fielded by fringe parties, and they are unlikely to win a seat.
“These elections have shown how deeply entrenched patriarchy is in Nepal,” says sociologist Bishwa Kalayan Parajuli. “Men can easily manipulate constitutional provisions to suppress women.”
Election Commissioner Ila Sharma says: “We need to discourage political parties from manipulating constitutional provisions on women’s inclusion, and we probably need a stricter law for that.”
Yuvaraj Shrestha in Pokhara and Gopal Gartaula in Jhapa
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