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Seminar Report on Initiative for State-building and Constitutional Dynamics :Gender perspective

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

(21-22 July) Mahendranagar (23-24 July) Dhangadi


Introduction

Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) Nepal office recently organised two day seminar in Kanchanpur (21- 22nd July) and Dhangadi Kailali (23-24th July) on state-building from gender perspectives and constitutional dynamics in Nepal. It also debated on the principles and practices of civic education. There were around 136 participants in Kanchanpur and 166 in Kailali district respectively. In both the districts, the programme was attended by the leaders of all political parties, members of civil society, civil servants, lawyers, lecturers, teachers, students, journalists, security personnel and other stake-holders of the society. Acting Chief District Officer (CDO) of Kanchanpur Keshab Datta Joshi also actively participated in two-day seminar while Khem Raj Regmi, Judge of the Kanchanpur district chaired the inaugural session. Likewise in Kailali Narayan Prasad Bidari, Chief District Officer of Kailali, former lawmaker Sunil Bhandari and others expressed their views during the inaugural session while Narayan Prasad Dhital district judge of Kailali chaired the two-day session.

The overarching aim of this seminar was increase women's participation in the institutional life of the state and societyas they have fallen behind in every aspect of state affairs and the need of the hour is to increase their participation so that Nepal can have equitable and harmonious state-society relations which alone will contribute towards their equal empowerment. This can, however, only be achieved when the patriarchal issues that have historically blocked women's active participation are explored at the first place. Equally important is to bridge the gender gap which is serious in the Far-Western Development Region (FWDR) of Nepal. The discrimination against Dalit women is still worst. Therefore in both the programme majority of the participants (more than 50 percent) were women as the whole idea was to boost women's confidence by familiarizing them with their gender, constitutional and human rights and elicit their meaningful participation in the process of state-building in Nepal.

Speaking in the programme Kanchanpur District Court Judge Regmi said that our culture is based on good governance wherein women's rights were duly incorporated. But in the name of change and modernity, we have been dismantling the rational aspects of our culture, without analysing what is good and what is bad, our old values and practices which, otherwise, were important factors to maintain social cohesion and peace. We should remove only outdated practices that stand as a barrier to women's development. He made an important point that the judicial freedom is all about restoring the rights of the people and the time has come to restore the rights of the women that were bestowed on them by our Vedic culture.

Speaking in the inaugural session, and setting the scene for discussion, Chandra D Bhatta, Programme Officer of FES said that state didn't collapse in Nepal, however, there has certainly been some sort of erosion in its legitimacy which is primarily because state's legitimacy has been shifted to political parties and their sister organizations, non-state armed actors and to some extent even to the individual leaders who play prominent role in national politics but failed to provide political stability. As a result, Nepali state's authority has been diluted and is on the verge of losing Weberian legitimacy in all spheres. The classic example of this crisis in legitimacy can be manifested from the gradual withdral by Village Development Secretaries (VDCs) from their location citing security reasons. In addition to this, he further said that, there have intermittent political changes in the country but it was only cosmetic in nature this is also primarily due to the fact that the agenda of change propelled by the masses has been hijacked by the elites from the political parties and their leader who, in turn, later co-opted with the former. So unless and until we do not restore the legitimacy of the state (people's confidence on state institutions) and translate people's agendas of social, political and economic transformation into action justice cannot be ensured and under these circumstances Nepal is bound to face another political crisis. We really need to establish democracy that is more substantive than procedural, as substantive democracy can uplift the status of women and other marginalised groups of society said Bhatta. This is particularly important because of late Nepali state has failed to create authority primarily because it failed to win the confidence of societal elements such as women, dalit, madhesis, janjatis and alike, provide them equal citizenship rights beyond rhetoric. Thus integration of all the societal elements in the realm of the state is crucial to further the agenda of state-building in Nepal.

However, what is not specifically clear is that what would be the role of women in private and public sphere. How do we deal with the violence committed against women at private (domestic violence) and at the public sphere at large (including the state)? There is no doubt that we cannot move ahead if we failed to upgrade the status of women but for this, equally challenging is, how do we uplift the status of women without hurting positive aspects ofour cultural, religious and other customary values and values related to national identity. This generates some fundamental questions which need to be answered, for example, how we resolve what is personal and what is private, should state regulate the private affairs of the individual. In fact state has entered into some personal and private issues but does that mean that separation of public and private is essential for social order or is it that personal has become political.

Speaking in the inaugural session, former lawmaker, Sunil Bhandari said that, in the context of Nepal, there is an urgent need to strike a balance between population growth and developmental momentum. He further said that we should engage women in political, economic, social and other activities both at home and outside so that we can strike a balance between freedom and justice and create equal level playing field for all and equal outcome of development and democratic opportunities.

Proceedings

There were four papers, presented by Television Journalist Aarati Chataut on the role of women in state-building, Senior Journalist Yuba Raj Ghimire on the state and current political dynamics, Constitutional Expert Kashi Raj Dahal on Constitution and Chandra D Bhatta on Democracy and its elements. Presenting her paper, Aarati Chataut, at the outset, provided overall situation of women in Nepal and underlined the need of uplifting their status as an endeavour to establish an egalitarian society. She said that provisions should be made for the empowerment of women in the upcoming constitution until their status is not elevated at par with men folk. She further underlined the need of having special provisions for the women of far-western development region as they are left behind in every aspect compared to the women of other regions. Commenting on the current representation of women in the CA, Chataut said that although there has been numerical increase in women's participation (citing women's representation in the CA) in the polity but it has not been effective primarily because they are less competent compared to the male folk in decision making and collective action. She also talked about gender-power-relation. Therefore the need of the hour is to increase the capacity of the women so that they can play the equal role as their male counterpart in every aspect of human life including state-building and post-conflict peace initiatives. We should also inculcate the culture of sharing and caring each other.

Yuba Raj Ghimire said that political change should serve the interest of nation and its people including women living in the rural areas like those living in the far western development region rather than serving the interest of few individuals. Political parties have become organizations with special political rights and they can do whatever they like. This tendency has resulted in the anti-political feeling in Nepali society. He further said that when it comes to the point of women's role in state-building or in political process for that matter, it appears that, looking at the historical facts, they have played crucial role in the war of Nalapani and in recent years their involvement in the Maoist insurgency for social/political/economic change in society. But state has failed to tap this opportunity as it has failed to create its own authority and it looks like "disowned state". Restoring the core functions of the state and effective civic education can transform unequal gender relations into equal citizens.

Presenting his paper constitutional expert Kashi Raj Dahal said that the upcoming constitution should address the issues of the women. He also explained about the different models of constitution and emphasised that we need to develop the model that serves our interest most. Likewise Chandra D Bhatta explained about the components of democracy, civil society and other issues.

Discussion

Rajmati Joshi said that though women wanted to do the job that have been historically done by the male folk (such as farming) but they still face opposition from the society. She asked how can economic empowerment is then possible which is important for civic competence. Laxmi Bohara said that women of Kanchanpur district are helping their partners in different ways. They even bring various stuffs/items from nearby Indian border in the cycle and sale in the local market. But the control is resources are uneven. Advocate Punam Chand said that women cannot make substantial decision within the house due to the patriarchic culture and now the time has come to change this culture without dismantling our cultural religious and other customary values.

DSP Bahadur Lama enquired what we want women to be in our society and where we want them to go, we have to be clear about this if we really wanted to bring change in our society. He blamed that women's are playing crucial role in making their husbands corrupt. He further raised the point that why Dr. Arju Debua should represent FWDR, why cann't we have someone from the region only. Parvati Dulal said that women, to some extent, wanted to live behind some traditions that have stood as obstacles for their development but there is a great deal of lack of leadership within the women's movement to bring about desired changes in society. Perhaps we need to bring some fundamental changes in our education system for resocialisation and develop special provisions for the development of women opined Dulal. Bhawana KC said that due to lack of confidence a among women themselves change is not taking place in society. Conscientization is important factor as it reflects the local context and allows to seek the solution of structural injustices.

Meena Bagale said that women are also part and parcel to instigate domestic violence in society. The violence comes either form mother in laws, sister in laws and alike. We, ourselves, have to be clear about our role in changing the society said Bagale. The need of the hour is that both men and women should work collectively to address gender related violence in society. Gender equality requires collective efforts from both sides.

Nav Raj Dahal enquired how we can establish gender identity. He further enquired what is the medium equality or equity to strike a gender balance. He further said that there has been erosion in the economic authority of the state after it became member of WTO and the only way to restore authority of the state is by improving our own competitive advantages. He further said that we have to manage the educated youth by creating jobs within the state otherwise it will lose further loyalty of its people. He also enquired how social market economy can be made possible in Nepali context. Is it true that non-stake-holding class doe not contribute to the nation-building process?

Kamal Niranjan Bhat said that we have been providing trainings/opportunities to the same women and this practice has produced more losers than winners. There is a lack of synergy. The need of the hour is to produce more winners (bother winners when it comes to the point of gender) which ultimately address the causes of conflict in Nepali society. Anand Pant asked how we could make Nepali bureaucracy more effective it has been seen problematique for the development. He also asked how can we bridge the class gap in society so that democracy creates equal opportunity for social integration and system integration.

Bhanumati Khadayat said that women's of the FWR have been suffering both at private and public sphere. Journalist Lokendra Lamsal enquired about the fiscal management of federal states and distribution of power within the federal states.

Samira Paudel raised an important point that despite so many progressive laws and by laws and significant representation of women in the CA, the situation of women at large has not improved? Why is that? Perhaps this could be the reason, among others, due to non-implementation of laws or implementation without understanding sentiment of people, which ultimately are blocking the social change in Nepali society. For instance the law on rewarding the remarriage of single women could have brought lot of negative impacts in the society. So proposing such laws without considering the impacts is also a reason of unawareness.

Lal Babu Chaudhary asked about the need of protecting rights of the ethnic communities. Bhagwai Hamal said that state should provide all sorts of facilities (education, health, employment) to the single women. Advocate Janaki Tuladhar said that social justice should be available to everyone including women. We also have to bear in mind that there is a great deal of gap in the status of women living in other parts of the country and FWDR. She further said that state has failed to provide security to the people and becoming remote from their hope. A virtuous state is needed to improve its ties with society and play a role to bring women into national sphere.

Surya Subedi of United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) demanded for the abolition of corruption in society and need for taking initiatives to bridge the class gaps. He strongly opposed private education and health system that is being promoted in the recent years in Nepal. Many participants in Dhangadi said that civil society and intellectuals should play crucial role in to take forward peace-process in the country. Jhankar Rawal enquired who can we balance our foreign policy in the changed political context when geopolitical challenges are increasingly becoming complex. He also highlighted the need of having fixed borders between India and Nepal so that the movement of unwanted elements can be checked. He further said that federal states should be carved out on the basis of economic viability of the states. On the empowerment of women, Rawal said that women can only be empowered and social anomalies can only be ameliorated when women are engaged in economic activities. The culture of impunity that exists in Nepali society needs to be abolished completely if we really wanted to experience change opined Rawal.

Ms Bimala Ale said that each and every political party should provide opportunities to the women so that they can make the decisions that can contribute to the state-building in the long run. She further said that society wants change but parties are blocking it due to protracted deadlock of national politics. We have to reflect why capable women of FWDR are not getting opportunity. Why defeated persons are getting opportunity again and again in national governance? Does not it undermine the spirit of representative democracy?.

Conclusion

The conclusion of these two seminars generates some important question, that is, how do we change the society made social conditions equally favorable to women? People want change but the "politics" that we are practicing is blocking the real change to take place. Take an example, after 1990s there have been mushroom growth of women's organisations in Nepal but the status of the women have not improved at par with. Albeit, those who have floated the agenda of women's rights and empowerment have become prosperous, they have established recognition in society. But what does it mean for the women who are still toiling in Darchula or Taplejung in rural mountainous areas and fighting with nature just for survival. So the real question is do we want change or more of the same again and again. If we want change, changing gender relation and increasing women's engagement initiatives is a must.

 
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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