Nepali Times
Guest Column
Favoured victims



This is a critical period in the history of Nepal when decisions being made now will determine the future course of the country.

But neither the negotiating team of the government nor of the Maoists have women in them. Besides two token women, there are no females in the 31-member Ceasefire and Code of Conduct National Monitoring Committee and the Interim Constitution Drafting Committee. The decision to include women in the constitution committee has been left pending even though drafting has started.

Despite the rhetoric of inclusiveness it is clear the political leaders and the Maoists are set in their old ways as they prepare for a 'new Nepal'. High caste men representing only about 16 percent of the population are deciding the future for the entire population, including women who have different needs, constraints and priorities.

Principles of human rights and democracy are held high in the aftermath of dictatorship and conflict . Yet Nepali women find themselves still fighting for a voice in the decision making process. Mainstream politics has yet to recognise the situation of millions of Nepali women whose condition has been worsened by conflict.

The Maoists identified marginalisation and disempowerment of women and Dalits to legitimise their war and attract recruits. Dalits and women are said to make up half the lower Maoist rank and file, 30 percent of the guerrillas are women and the central committee is 10 percent female. It would seem that the Maoists excelled where the government and other political parties had failed in including and empowering women.

However, patterns of representation in post-conflict rebuilding shows continued domination by the same upper caste men within the Maoist movement. About the seven party alliance, the less said the better. They pulled down the only woman speaker despite her competence in conducting the house in the most difficult of times. All evidence and trends show that Dalits and women will continue to be 'favoured victims' of the new regime whoever comes to power.

The 8-point agreement of 16 July between the seven parties and the Maoists has serious implications for the future approach to decision-making as well as on the promises of an inclusive democracy. The extra-democratic process through which parties and Maoist leaders agreed on the eight points, ignoring the peace talk team, monitoring committee and all other major stakeholders, undermines and endangers the democratic process in the peace-building and reconstruction process. Such a style of functioning shows high caste men assume they know what is best for all other population groups and it is a betrayal of the promise of democracy.

Women engaged in relief work, promoting peace initiatives and monitoring human rights, including women's rights, are mostly in the informal sector. But only men with access to formal political and economic power are seen around the negotiating table. Resolutions in favour of social and gender inclusion alone are obviously insufficient, it is the implementation that counts.

But from what we have seen, the marginalised will continue to be excluded from negotiations, treaty-making, interim governments, post-conflict reconstruction, planning and policy-making. Above all, men will continue to appoint men to power and largely it will be the men who set the post-conflict and reconstruction agenda even in the new Nepal.

Experiences of women and men in Nepal's conflict have been different, as elsewhere. While the entire nation has suffered, the impact on women and men, particularly concerning access to power and decision-making, is unequal.

Besides being victims, in response to the conflict situation women have stepped outside their traditional roles. They have joined the armed forces, political organisations and peace movements, as well as taken over traditionally male occupations and responsibilities for the protection and maintenance of their families. The women's role in economic and agricultural production has expanded.

After the crisis, however, the same patriarchal values and mindsets exist. The role of women is marginalised in post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.

Such general exclusion of women from decision-making positions prior to, during and following violent conflicts reinforces their victimisation. This has significant implications on the future of a reconstructed Nepal and scope and extent of the democratic process.

Bina Pradhan, PhD, is a gender population and development expert.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)