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Exploring political space for women in Nepal

Posted: 12 February 2019

Nepal, Impact,

Australia Awards alumna Dr Punam Yadav says that Nepal’s new electoral provision has seen a significant breakthrough in providing women a political space.

Sharing the preliminary research findings on a study she conducted titled ‘Women’s Political Participation in the Federal Context of Nepal’, Dr Yadav pointed out that while there are challenges that still need to be addressed, these provisions have encouraged many women to participate in politics. She shared these insights at an Australia Awards Alumni Forum in Kathmandu involving over thirty participants in January 2019.

Nepal is a newly emerging Federal Democratic Republic, which has been introducing new avenues and opportunities for women’s political participation in recent years. The new constitution promulgated by the Constitution Assembly on 25 September 2015 made it mandatory for women’s participation in the Federal parliament, provincial assembly and local municipalities. Reflecting on this, the new election law mandated that at least 40.4% of the total nominees at the local bodies to be female. As a result, 14,352 women have been elected to local bodies, which is 40.9% of the total elected representatives at local bodies. Likewise, women’s share in federal parliament is 33%. Dr Yadav, as part of her research, interviewed 80 women political leaders to explore the experiences in their new roles and responsibilities.

Sharing her research findings, Dr Yadav pointed out that while some of the women entering politics are from political backgrounds, many are completely new to it. In some cases, male family members, including husbands and fathers-in-law have helped women contest in elections. ‘There is a general assumption among people [in Nepal] that women are not capable of taking political leadership. This scepticism is a total bias against women. Political space is very important for women to unleash their leadership potential’, says Dr Yadav. Reflecting on her research she also pointed out that the women she interviewed, despite not being in party-politics previously, were social workers and local activists in their communities with immense capabilities.

‘Political space is very important for women to unleash their leadership potential’, says Dr Yadav

Despite the great advances for women’s participation in politics in recent years, Dr Yadav asserted that there are certain flaws in policies that need to be addressed. For example, according to Dr Yadav, the new electoral provision considers women as ‘homogenous groups’ and it ‘does not consider intersectionality’. Dr Yadav noted that most of the elected women leaders come from an elite caste or class. There are also the challenges posed by illiteracy. According to Dr Yadav, many of these women are not aware of how the institutional structure works in their municipality, which make them feel ‘helpless ‘ for not being able to respond to the needs of their people. Dr Yadav detailed different situations these women can find themselves in as a result, including an account of a women who feels each day is a struggle as her voice never seems to be heard.

Despite these challenges, Dr Yadav is optimistic that these new roles and responsibilities will be a key factor in empowering women. ‘We should think about building the capacity of women leaders and encourage them rather than question their potential’ she said, ‘Moreover, it is just the beginning; with the practical experience they’re gaining, they will develop their expertise and capabilities more in the days to come’.

The presentation was followed by guided conversation on how to encourage women’s political participation in Nepal. Dr Yadav completed her PhD from the University of Sydney in 2014 on Australia Awards Scholarship. Today, she is academically engaged in exploring how women have experienced transformation through socio-political changes. She has a book and dozens of journal articles to her credit.

Australia Awards organises the Alumni Forum for Nepal monthly to celebrate, share and highlight the contributions of its alumni.