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Report on Interaction program on Social Democracy and Gender in Nepal

Organised by Tanka Prasad Acharya Memorial Foundation (TPAMF)

3 December 2010, Kathmandu


The Foundation in collaboration with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) organized a one day workshop on Social Democracy in Nepal" at Hotel Malla on December 3, 2010 (Mansir 17, 2067), on the occasion of 99th birth anniversary of the late Prime Minister Tanka Prasad Acharya. About 70 people from various walks of life including politicians, academicians and civil society participated in the workshop. The primary objective of the workshop was to examine the relevance of various political systems for Nepal at this stage of socio-political development and the regional and international context.

Specifically,

  • To review the current political scenario and establish relevance of social democracy in Nepal
  • To examine the strength and weakness of the theoretical foundations of various political systems, liberal democracy, Marxist system and social democracy from a. gender perspective

Opening Session

The inaugural session was chaired by the former Speaker of the Parliament and Chairperson of TPAMF Mr. Daman Nath Dhungana. Minister of Information Communication and Technology Mr. Shankar Pokheral was the chief guest. Welcome speech was delivered by Mr Govinda Prasad Dulal, Executive officer of TPAMF.

Speaking on the occasion chairperson of Constituent Committee Mr Nilambar Acharya said that the late Tanka Prasad Acharya was the source of democratic politics in Nepal. His social democratic thinking, unwavering commitment to nationalism and democracy and exemplary courage to adhere to them is very relevant to the current political situation in the country. The late Tanka Prasad Acharya believed on achieving the social democratic goals through peaceful means. The speaker emphasized that political democracy by itself is not adequate. It must be accompanied by social democracy. Currently, the framing of constitution should be at the center of the political agenda. But all of the political parties are engaged in advancing their own interest, rather than making constitution. For them Constitution making seems to be only a side job. We need to concentrate in making the country free of violence and fear as per the ideology of late Acharya.

Dr. Ram Saran Mahat, Ex Finance Minister, member of the Constituent Assembly and Central Committee Member of Nepali Congress deliberated the late Tanka Prasad Acharya's political believes were very relevant to his time. He advocated middle way to achieve and develop the democracy in the country. But today the times have changed, we have a new context. We have a Republican Nepal and a globalizing world. We (Nepali Congress) are searching ways to empower people through economic development and market management. There is a need for capitalism to achieve social development as well. We should not follow the old model of development.

The chief guest, Honorable Minister of Information, Communication and Technology, Mr. Shankar Pokharel giving his speech remarked that the history of political changes in Nepal could be divided in three parts. The first part was leding by the Late king Prithvi Narayan Shah, through establishment of Nepalese Nation and the nationalism. The late Tanka Prasad Acharya was leading the second part - which focused on socio-political reform. Currently we are progressing through a third phase - transforming the centralized State and the governance system to federal one. In the context of Nepalese politics, there is severe problem of neglect of principal based politics. There is a need of a new Tanka Prasad Acharya to show the way for principal based politics. We can bring social change only through ideological and political struggle.

Speaking from the chair Mr. Daman Nath Dhungana said that it is time we follow the political example shown by late Tanka Prasad Acharya, who led the socio-political changes and while in power implemented far reaching administrative reforms and foreign policy, rather than the blaming each other within the political party and in the Constituent Assembly.

Second Session

The second session was chaired by the Vice Chairperson of TPAMF Prof. Som Prasad Gauchan, Central Department of Political Science, Tribhuvan University. At the beginning of this session Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES in Nepal made his remarks. He said that two features of Nepal's current political scenario calls for a series discussion on the relevance of social democracy in Nepal. Firstly, Nepal has signed both sets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-civil and political rights and social, economic and cultural rights of the United Nations. It is also a party to the SAARC Declaration on social charter. Secondly, the Interim Constitution is largely based on social democratic ideals as it has expanded more social rights of citizens including right to work, food, social security, health, etc. No matter what government is in power these two facts lead to a social democratic path. While the liberal democracy focuses on individual rights the Marxists/socialists/ social democrats argue that without comprehensive framework of social justice even liberal rights cannot be realized. The Social Democracy propounds that both are equally important and tries to maintain individual freedom within the context of social justice.

Dahal said that he wants to make four basic points. Firstly, we can not be in a perpetual state of transition. The changes have to be institutionalized for stability and resources have to be allocated to realize human rights. We need to seek political, social and economic reforms within the constitution conducive to needs and freedom of citizens.

Secondly, the state has conceded too many rights. Given that we have a week state it has little capacity to implement them. A weak state cannot implement fundamental rights and even provide classic public goods such as security, rule of law and service delivery While the civil activism has increased, the institutional capabilities of the state are declining. Crucial issues are: How to balance the rights and duties of citizens with the capacity of the state? How to strengthen the institutions and constitutions so that freedoms become compatible with legitimate public order? How the poor citizens can also become stakeholders of democracy?

Thirdly, the structural context of poverty and political equation in Constituent Assembly which is dominated by left and social democrats make social democracy in inescapable option for Nepal's future political order.

Fourthly, changes in our country must be rooted in our own history and context. Our society is transforming both because of global impact of modernity and our internal needs and expectation of better living standards. How to stabilize the social pact we have agreed to and make it judicious? Our problems are systemic. But our vision is narrow, discipline-focused. How to make our knowledge inter-subjective and system-sensitive for solving the problems? If we start just on the basis of externally-driven theory we may not be able to meet the needs of the native citizens. Then the system will loose its legitimacy. The late Tanka Prasad Acharya was very clear about this. He was the first social democrat in this country. His opinions expressed in Living Martyrs are very much rooted in our own indigenous context. He explains how he raised voice for political changes on the basis of teachings of Gita. He had a vision of Nepal's socio-economic and political transformation. It was derived primarily from praxis, not any fixed universal ideology. He never wanted to discredit the national heritage by using universal ideology. We can not have a state without history. We should value what we have inherited from our ancestors and find our own path to social transformation. Systems come and go, history remains with us. We cannot transcend history rather we should learn the positive teaching and change its negative aspects. Change is inevitable in every generation but they must be rooted in history, only then the outcome will be sustainable. The Chinese and Japanese have shown the way how it can be done. Impact from global developments is inevitable but we must learn to match them with our needs and choose our own path. Social democracy is based on the self-determination of citizens.

I hope that discussion will provide important feedback to the politicians and the Constituent Assembly how social democratic model provides a platform for compromise to both the communists and democrats for meeting the aspirations of the people for socio-and political transformation, including women and various disadvantaged groups.

Two papers were presented in this session. In the first paper "Why Social Democracy in Nepal" Dr. Chaitanya Mishra first reviewed the current political scenario in the country, whereby he divided the political parties and politicians within each party, as right, left and centrists. He commented that while the leftists of various shades still adhered to the out dated ideology of communism and proletarian dictatorship, the right saw nothing wrong with the old style capitalism. He said both were out of context and that the politicians needed to seriously consider the realities of the current political scenario in the country and regional and global context. Internally, neither the left nor the right was in any position to impose their will at this stage. The strength of various parties in the Constituent Assembly and the compromise worked out earlier in the form of series of peace, the Interim Constitution, and the reports of the various CA committees already contain elements of social democracy. This is also the best solution for Nepal at this point of history because only social democracy can combine the aspirations of the people for democracy as well as socio-political transformations.

He adds that the present is also characterized by large-scale social transition to new ways of making livelihood - decline of subsistence agriculture and large scale migration to cities in Nepal and beyond, with changing democratic consciousness and increasing pool of income earners. This is an opportunity to generate resources to meet the needs of the inept and the subordinated, dispossessed and marginalized.

The second paper entitled "The Question of Women under the Political Systems" was presented by the General Secretary of the Foundation, Dr. Meena Acharya. Dr. Acharya analyzes how women are placed in the liberal democratic, the communist/socialist and social democratic systems. The paper argues that political systems are not just a form of government but a system of philosophy, economic order and forms of governments. The questions raised are: how they deal with patriarchy and gender issues in theory and in practice. Which system provides women with best theoretical and practical opportunities to gain gender equality in the current unequal world?

It is argued that liberal democratic system of thought based on equality before the law and free market system does not recognized the diversity of population or the differentiated needs of the men and women. Economic relations between the individuals are mediated by the market, where households and firms trade goods and factors of production, land, labor and capital. 'Household' is conceptualized as a unit of consumption and supply of labor. Women as a group do not exist as 'producers' or individuals in this system of thought. Nor does it recognize the historical advantages and disadvantages and unequal ownership of assets and means of production. Women have to gain equality on male terms, to be like men.

In the Marxist system of thought, women's subjugation is seen as a part of the capitalist subjugation based on private property like that of the labor class. Women are either in the capitalist class or proletariat depending on their husbands' social status in the production process. Therefore, for liberation of women women's labor must also be socialized. This generalization is rejected both by the Marxist feminists and other feminists. This construction fails to see the productive role of the households and specific needs of women because of their reproductive responsibilities. In conclusion still there is neither a conclusive theory which provides perfect explanation of women's subordination nor a theory for her liberation. The feminist socialism, constructed, on materialistic historicity grounds, takes into account the diverse realities of various groups of women, countering the need for essentialist negation of theoretical generalizations. Social democracy, which overcomes the rigidities of both the liberal democratic and Marxist theorization, is seen as more conduce to women's liberation, because both democracy and social justice are intrinsic to it.

 
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