Print Edition - 2017-02-18  |  Women Power Up

Women in politics

  • Nepal is among the only 10 countries in the world having a woman head of state
- Binod Ghimire

Feb 18, 2017-

Bikram Sambat 2073, which corresponds to 2015-16, will be remembered in Nepal’s political history as the year when women assumed three among the top five government positions. 

Following the promulgation of a new constitution which institutionalized inclusion, Bidhya Devi Bhandari was elected President, Onshari Gharti became Speaker of the Legislature-Parliament and Sushila Karki became the acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. According to Nepal’s order of precedence, Bhandari comes first while Karki and Gharti are fourth and fifth respectively. 

This achievement is a result of the long struggle of women activists combined with the Maoist conflict and various People’s Movements. 

It was the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 which explicitly ensured proportional representation of women and marginalised groups. With women making up around 33 percent of the members of the first Constituent Assembly, Nepal joined the list of a handful of countries to hold such a distinction.

Though the proportion dropped to 30 percent in the second Constituent Assembly, it’s still a phenomenal figure in comparison with the world’s largest democracy India where women make up only 11.6 percent of the Members of Parliament. 

A report of UN Women shows that the average share of women parliamentarians was 22.8 percent in the world and 19.2 percent in Asia as of June 2016. According to the report, only the Nordic countries with a 41.1 percent score were ahead of Nepal in women’s participation. It also reveals that Nepal is among the only 10 countries in the world having a woman head of state. Only nine countries in the world had women heads of government as of January. 

Dwarika Devi Thakurani was the first woman to become a Member of Parliament way back in 1958. She also became the first woman minister two years later. However, it was another 40 years before a woman assumed the position of deputy prime minister. In 1998, Shailaja Acharya became the deputy prime minister in the Nepali Congress government. Prior to the Constituent Assembly election, only 10 among the 205 parliamentarians were women.

“There has been tremendous progress in the representation of women in different sectors, and we have worked a lot to reach this state. This doesn’t mean that we are fully satisfied,” said Pampha Bhusal, spokesperson for the CPN (Maoist Centre).  Though representation in Parliament is significant, women have been largely left out of decision-making positions. 

The current Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government exhibits a clear picture of male bias with regard to executive positions. Despite heading the third largest Cabinet in Nepal’s history with 43 members, Dahal has just four women ministers with Sita Devi Yadav being the only woman minister of Cabinet rank. 

The current Cabinet contains 6 percent women ministers including state ministers and 3 percent women ministers who are full ministers. 

Women’s participation in leadership positions in political parties isn’t satisfactory either. The Nepali Congress, the largest party in the country, has only one woman office bearer while only 15 among 76 members (19 percent) of the Central Working Committee are women. 

Women are even rarer in the Central Working Committee of the second largest party, the CPN-UML. Vice-Chairperson Asta Laxmi Shakya is the only woman office bearer among 15 members while she is the only woman in the 26-member standing committee which plays a key role in the party’s functioning. Similarly, only 5 among 39 politburo members in the party are women. Just 29 (15 percent) out of the 182-member Central Working Committee including office bearers are women. 

The CPN (Maoist Centre), which has been partially credited with increasing women’s participation in politics, too lags behind when it comes to giving decision-making positions to women. Only three in the 33-member headquarters of the party are women.

NC Central Working Committee member and women’s activist Pushpa Bhusal blames the existing patriarchal mindset in the party leadership and society as the main cause behind women’s low representation in decision-making level. “Our entire political system is male-dominated which never believes in women,” she said. “This is not going to change unless women come forward to secure their rights.” 

She says women should share part of the blame for the situation. According to her, there is a tendency among women to ask males for whatever they need. She has seen during her many years in women’s activism and politics that many women become leaders, but very few possess leadership qualities. “We have to develop capabilities and prove our leadership to break the existing patriarchal mindset in the society,” Bhusal further added. 

Fact sheet 

-     Total women’s participation in Parliament: Nepal - 29.8 percent,

-     World - 22.8 percent, Asia -19.2 percent 

-     Only 10 countries including Nepal have a woman as head of state

-     Current Cabinet has only 6 percent women’s participation

-     Dwarika Devi Thakurani becomes first woman Member of Parliament - 1958, minister - 1960

-     Shailaja Acharya becomes the first deputy prime minister - 1998 

-     Bidhya Devi Bhandari becomes first woman President - 2015

-     Onshari Gharti elected as first woman Speaker - 2015

-     Sushila Karki becomes acting Chief Justice - April 2016, takes full charge three months later 

Published: 18-02-2017 09:39

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