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Seminar report on Rights of Women in the Constitution Making Process

Organised by Modern Kanya Multiple Campus (MKMC)

7 March 2009, Kathmandu


In order to mark the 99th International Women's Day, Modern Kanya Multiple College organized a one-day seminar on "Rights of Women in the Constitution Making Process" on 5 March 2009 at Hotel De'la Annapurna in Kathmandu. Amid a grand function, Chief Guest of the program Right Honorable Chief Justice Kedar Prasad Giri inaugurated the program by lighting a candle. Addressing the inaugural session of the program in which an eclectic audience of around two hundred and five, mostly women from different walks of life including media, education, bureaucracy, medicine and law, Chief Justice Giri stressed on the need that the new Constitution should guarantee the rights of women by eliminating all kinds of age-old discriminatory laws and practices. He also appreciated the Modern Kanya Multiple College on having done such a laudable act of providing the common platform to discuss the issues of women, adding that the prevailing curriculum should be reshuffled and improved in order to root out all sorts of stereotypes and achieve sustaining rights of women.

Speaking in the program, Mr. Mahesh Acharya, former Minister and Nepali Congress leader, viewed that the foundation of sustainable peace is the equality between men and women. Saying that merely inking the rights of women in legal documents does not indeed place women on an equal footing with their male counterparts, he underscored the necessity of implementing them so as to bring about tangible changes in women's lives. He cited instances of civil wars from Kosovo, Afghanistan and Shree Lanka and said that the first and the worst victims of domestic violence anywhere in the world are the women. He further clarified that the new Constitution should mainly focus on including three important issues pertaining to women's rights, vis-à-vis proportional representation of women in all spheres of State mechanism, abolition of all kinds of discriminatory laws and practices prevalent in society and the end of all kinds of social and domestic violence against women.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Ishwor Pokhrel, General Secretary of the CPN-UML, termed the proposal of public importance, 2063, which was unanimously passed by the reinstated House of Representatives, as a milestone in the direction of women's movement and urged all sides to implement it and literally adhere to its true spirit and essence. He hinted at the prospect of black clouds hovering over the fate of the peace process, maintaining that if ever the peace process gets derailed, its first victims will be the women. He, therefore, asked all women to keep vigil in order to make sure that the peace process comes to a logical end. The rights of women and the peace process are inextricably interrelated, he opined. He categorically said that the new Constitution should guarantee the women's twin rights to property and lineage without which, he argued, women can not be truly empowered. He also asked all women to be united and raise a collective voice for ensuring their rights in the new Constitution.

Professor Dr. Indira Sharma, Head of the Department of Women's Studies at Padma Kanya Campus, was of the view that women's rights are no different from human rights, and emphasized on the effective implementation of their rights written in the laws. Laying bare the present plight of the Nepalese women, she said that the new Constitution that is in the offing should ensure and strongly implement three issues of utmost importance pertaining to women that include justifiable and proportional inclusion of women in the mainstream, empowerment of women and elimination of all types of discriminatory laws against them. She also maintained that the reservation for women should not only be raised up to 50% from the existing 33%, it should also be literally brought into practice.

The inaugural session was chaired by Professor Ram Prasad Dahal, founding Chairperson of Modern Kanya Multiple College and renowned educationist. Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Dahal said that the seminar would provide a good platform for party leaders and experts to discuss and debate the issues of women to be addressed in the new Constitution, adding that it is taking place at an opportune moment when the new Constitution is in the process of being drafted. He expressed his hope that the issues raised and debated in the seminar would find place in the new Constitution. He also stressed on the need of making women themselves aware of their rights and went on to say that this is just what the Modern Kanya Multiple College has been trying to do since its very inception. Mr. Dahal expressed his heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all the honorable guests, speakers and participants for their valued time and precious opinions.

A band of students welcomed the Chief Guest and other Special Guests by offering them bouquets of flowers, whereas Mr. D.B. Lama, Principal Modern Kanya Multiple College) greeted all of those honorable guests by presenting shawls. The program was hosted by Ms. Bimala Karki, Lecturer of Modern Kanya Multiple College and the welcome speech was delivered by Ms. Puja Sharma, student of the same College.

The second session of the seminar was chaired and conducted by Raghav Lal Baidhya, Attorney General of the Government of Nepal. Two working papers pertaining to the issues related with women were presented in the second session. At the beginning, Ms. Aarti Chautaut, a renowned media person and female activist, presented her working paper entitled "Rights of Women in the Making of the Constitution". Presenting her paper, Ms. Chautaut said that as the whole nation is now bent on making a new Constitution, this is an opportune moment for all Nepalese women to raise their voice with collective and concerted efforts so as to ensure their rights. She hoped that her paper will act simply as a stimulus to provoke a debate on a number of women's issues.

Shedding light on the disheartening situation of Nepalese women, she in her paper argues, "The number of women in Nepal occupies slightly more than 50% out of the nation's total population and various studies and reports also reveal that Nepali women do twice as much work as their male counterparts. But so far as their rights are concerned, they have never enjoyed as many rights as their male counterparts so far. Due to the age-old patriarchal attitudes and ideologies, the presence of women in the sectors such as health, education, economy, politics, bureaucracy, legal service, communication, policy-making, etc is alarmingly low." She contends that all the previous constitutions had been made only by the males and women had no opportunity to have their say. As we are going to draft the new Constitution in this backdrop, she cautions all women to display and move ahead with ample patience, alertness and strategy so as to guarantee their justifiable and dignified place and shares in the new Constitution. She fears that the women lawmakers may not be able to raise their voice to safeguard the rights of women as they are bound to abide by the whip of their respective parties and she, therefore, feels the need of making a common network of women lawmakers in order to put concerted pressure when it comes to the issues and rights of women. She candidly says that the new Constitution should safeguard the rights guaranteed by the Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2063 and incorporate a number of other issues including setting up of a family court, provision of maternity as a fundamental right, 50% reservation for women, proportional allocation of constituencies only for women candidates, etc.

Commenting on Ms. Chautaut's paper, Kashiraj Dahal appreciated her paper saying that it has succeeding in exposing many hidden, crucial issues of women that had remained under shadow before. Citing instances from his professional experience, he nonetheless argued that awareness among women is a must as the rights guaranteed by the laws may not be effectively implemented if women themselves are not aware. He further said that the prevailing legal system should also be improved in order to enhance the status and strengthen the rights of women. Summing up his comments, he said that the new Constitution should reflect women's woes of the past, address the present needs and pave way to a secure future for women. A number of other participants had also raised their queries and made comments.

Dr. Gobinda Bahadur Thapa, a well-known economist and former Deputy Governor of the Nepal Rastra Bank, presented a working paper on "Status of Nepalese Women and the New Constitution". Making a succinct analysis of the status of Nepalese women, he writes, "The issue of eliminating gender-based discriminations is one of the main issues that need to be duly addressed and managed in the new Constitution. Discriminations against women exist in the forms of personal relationships between men and women, in family and society and also in the State's dealings with women. Nonetheless, such discriminations are not the same in all communities in Nepal. These prejudices against women are more commonly found among the communities based on patriarchy than those which are matriarchal such as Gurungs, Magars, Rais, Limbus, Newars, etc." Dr. Thapa in his paper argues that first and foremost various areas and dimensions of discriminations against women should be identified prior to eliminating them. An interesting aspect of his paper is that he also mentions some of those aspects of the Nepali society which are positive and encouraging such as no discrimination in terms of wages from the State, longevity of women being more than that of men, etc. He is of the opinion that in the making of the new democratic, republican Constitution, women themselves must be proactive to meticulously review the laws and Acts and identify all the discriminatory legal provisions and those that should be incorporated into the new Constitution should be presented to the Constitutional Committee of the Constituent Assembly. The women lawmakers elected in the Constituent Assembly must rise above their political parties and adopt a common stance.

Dr. Thapa's paper invited torrents of comments and criticisms. Professor Mamita Singh and Dev Raj Dhal, political analyst and sociologist, made their comments on his paper. Ms. Singh raised a question as to how a women-friendly new Constitution can be constructed when a large chunk of women are still illiterate and ignorant and do not what their rights are. Adopting a radical approach, she resented with the way a woman is defined. She was of the view that a woman is misdefined as the society associates her only with derogatory attributes and asked the female students of Modern Kanya Multiple College to redefine a woman and find her true definition. She held that the social and cultural values fed by the male chauvinistic society are erroneous and they should therefore be shunned. She summed up her comments with a question: Why should a woman touch the feet of her husband and not the other way round?

Commenting on Dr. Thapa's paper, Mr. Dahal adopted a rather theoretical approach behind the subordination of women, arguing that women can be truly empowered through the equitable and justifiable mobilization of resources and the status of women is therefore much better in the socialist countries than in the capitalist nations. He further said that the private sector is expanding by leaps and bounds, whereas the public sector has narrowly shrunk resulting in the instability of democracy that ultimately results in exploitation and subordination of women.

The seminar that kicked off at around eleven along with the kindling of the candle by the Chief Justice came to an end at half past four with a luncheon break of half an hour in the middle. The conclusive gist of the seminar is as listed below:

Conclusions:

1. Ensuring equal rights of women in the new Constitution on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
2. Economic, social, political, educational and cultural rights along with the right to property to be ensured as the fundamental rights of women in the constitution.
3. End of discriminations and prejudices against women of all kinds such as social, political, economic, educational, cultural, etc.
4. Proportional representation of women in all spheres of social, political, and economic life based on the principle of gender equity.
5. Schools and colleges should be opened for women based on geographical regions until they are truly empowered.
6. Provision of adult, youth and child education for women.
7. 50% reservation for women to be made obligatory in all spheres of State apparatus.
8. Opportunity for qualified women to appear in the SLC exams without prior education.
9. Opportunity of employment for women in order to ensure their opportunity for education.
10. Women's rights to maternity to be made a fundamental right.
11. Education for women to be made compulsory along with the opportunities of scholarships at higher education.
12. Ensuring rights of women over natural resources.

 
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