Print Edition - 2017-02-19  |  Free the Words

Powerful Nepali women’s challenges

  • They have come to stand face-to-face with history in an unprecedented way

Feb 19, 2017-It dawned on me the other day while responding to the questions of a female journalist and my erstwhile student of literature that the Nepali state is reaching a climactic moment in its decision-making process, and those holding important positions of decision-making are women. Nepal now has women in key positions—in the place of President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and House Speaker. 

In my piece “Of female justices”, published in these pages after Sushila Karki’s endorsement as the first female chief justice by the Parliamentary Hearing Special Committee in July last year, I also alluded to her defence of the appointment of other female justices. I wrote, “The very structure of law in Nepal and its related issues and challenges of implementation are of feudal origin. Nepal’s law and some obsolete acts reflect the erstwhile society” (August 7, 2016). The appointments of female and male justices had come at a very crucial mode of Nepali society’s transition, in which some subtle and undefined subjects lay dormant. 

Male hegemony

The actions of the judiciary need no reiteration. But equally important was the appointment of Bidya Devi Bhandari as the first female President of the Republic of Nepal. I was intrigued by some commentaries about her appointment in the press and on social media. I was dismayed to read some politically incorrect and indecent comments. But I knew from where they emanated. Little was written about the election of Onasari Gharti Magar to the position of the Speaker of the House but, on the whole, people took the news without any qualms or sharp reactions.

A tacit hegemony worked in all the above appointments. The genesis of the term hegemony should be traced to the assumption of the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci, who regarded it to be a condition of ruling a people by galvanising their consent. In other words, hegemony was a tacit understanding, a culture of quietly accepting certain positions and norms. But later interpretations eroded these semantics, and hegemony was understood as a mode of resistance. 

However, when the female appointments took place in Nepal, there was a need to figure out the meaning of hegemony. People accepted that women too should be given top positions, and all is well within the Nepali world ruled by a semi-feudal polity and male-centric norms. It was accepted that those positions of power were doled out by men to the above women. 

But I feel that Nepal’s Legislative Parliament and the politicians are dangerously moving towards the brink of a political disaster by not living up to constitutional requirements and not being adequately sensitive to the deadline for holding local, provincial, and national elections. They are caught in a game of Catch-22. Their anxieties are neither theoretical or metaphysical, nor economic, democratic or loktantrik. Their actions, it has become evident by now, are propelled by a desire to hold power and get access to important money making positions in society. I am putting it very blandly, because none of the actions of the political parties and statesmen have made us feel hopeful, let alone sublime.

Nepali politics

To return to my inquisition, I have this to say: the women in the most important positions of power, as given to them by the situation, can be said to be no longer holding the positions only as something doled out by the male power culture. Each of them has come face-to-face with history. If a disaster happens as a result of the male-centric and power-mongering inefficiency of Nepali politics, the women have to take decisions from their respective positions. Nepali history has brought them to this stage, and they will have little choice in the case of a crisis. 

Never before in Nepali history had women come to hold such power positions. They are constitutionally warranted or democratically elected positions. The President has been counselling the politicians to find a solution to the current political stalemate, but they are not heeding her warnings because they know that it is the duty of the constitutional President to speak like that. But the underlying reason for the President’s concern is that she is the ‘protector’ of the constitution. The speaker is similarly concerned about the problem. She is the one who has to deal with the hordes of parliamentarians at every session. 

Matter of concern and curiosity

One research article published in Journal of Gender Studies in June 2010 strikes me with the gender psyche in American politics too, which, of course, culminated in the 2016 Presidential election. The report says politics is dominated by maleness ‘in American cultural discourse’. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, elected as the first speaker of the House in January 2007, received coverage in five leading US dailies. Her qualities were not different from those of a male politician, which were the archetypes of masculinity, such as being strong and decisive, ‘with a spine of steel’. But she had an extra quality; she is a mother of five, possesses a ‘heart of gold’, and so on. It is interesting to see how a woman holding an important position is treated the same way everywhere, including in America. But the point I have been making here is that the Nepali women in power have come to stand face-to-face with history in an unprecedented way. 

A few things, however, can be speculated by judging the politics from the hegemonic norms established so far in Nepal. The male-centric politicians will find a way to influence the decisions of at least the President and the Speaker, because these positions emanate from partisan politics. It would not be easy for the women of these positions to freely take important historical decisions. I asked the opinion of the aforementioned female journalist on this matter. She was also thinking in terms of the male-centric stereotypes. But what is unmistakable is that there is a pattern by which Nepali politics works; it is dominated by male politicians. And women, whatever important positions they are given, may not find it easy to break the hegemony. How the women face the challenge of history is a matter of concern as well as curiosity. 

Published: 19-02-2017 08:28

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