Women at work

  • First woman president is a good start but Nepal still has a long way to go

Oct 30, 2015-

Bidya Devi Bhandari has created history. She is the first woman to be the head of the state or government in Nepal. After the promulgation of the new constitution this is the second major office held by a woman. Only last week, Onsari Gharti was elected as the House Speaker.  And the list does not end here. In six months or so Nepal will also have the first woman chief justice. Three major organs of the state—the presidency, the legislature and the judiciary—are going to be headed by women. This is a stellar record any country would be proud of, let alone Nepal.   

Even though electing women as head of state or to other important organs of the state is a major milestone in the life of a country, this alone does not tell the whole story of state inclusion and gender equality. Among Muslim countries, Bangladesh, for instance, has the most number of women dominating politics. It has elected two female heads of government. The percentage of seats held by women in the Bangladesh Parliament has increased two-fold, from 10 percent in 1990 to 20 percent in 2011. In 2014, Bangladesh ranked eighth in the world in terms of lowest gender gap in political empowerment, according to International Labour Organisation. Yet discrimination against women is rampant in Bangladesh and it ranks 115 (out of 187 countries) in the Gender Inequality Index—which measures gender disparity in health, empowerment (education and political empowerment) and economic status. Nepal ranks 98 in the same index. Thus, Bangladesh still languishes low in the global gender equality index despite its two Begams, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.

 That’s the context Bhandari’s elevation to the high office should be looked into. Having a woman in Sheetal Niwas is a great achievement but that alone should not give us the high moral ground to trumpet our achievement. Our new President

was responsible for tabling the resolution motion in Parliament which called for the ‘or’ provision on citizenship rights through mothers and for the 33 percent representation of women in all state organs. But she has regrettably back-tracked from her stands on the citizenship issue, arguing that the ‘or’ provision demanded by the women rights advocates is a “Western influence”. She also stated that ‘Nepali culture’ demands women to remain submissive to men and that is how Nepali society needs to function. This has come as a huge letdown for many women who now hope that the new President will stand up for women’s rights, instead of toeing the highly patriarchal UML party-line. She quit the party membership yesterday once she assumed her new office and regardless  of her allegiance to her party, her presidential position is constitutionally guaranteed. As a woman, she should now use her bully pulpit to mainstream women’s cause in what still remains a deeply patriarchal society.

Published: 30-10-2015 08:28

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