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Role of Women in State-Building in Nepal

Two-Day Interaction Program organized by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

9-10 July 2013, Jorpati High School, Tinpiple, Kavre

By Samira Paudel


Background

There have been several changes in Nepal's political history recently and as a result new thoughts and awareness were developed. Even if the new political developments brought some changes in the society there are still many gender issues which need to be dealt with. One of the major issue concerns is women issue. In Nepal women comprise more than half of the total population. The patriarchal system provides very little scope for the female to assert their identity in the family, society, political parties and the state. They are marginalized from many economic and social opportunities despite the promulgation of progressive legislations. To make women become more active and play role in the state?building process, they need to be empowered systemically (e. g. economically, socially, culturally, politically). To deal with the issue and to discuss on the role of women in State-building a series of FES programs are organized to provide both male and female equal opportunities. This interaction program mainly focuses on why women´s involvement and their role in the state-building process of Nepal is essential to transform them from the private to the public sphere and from ordinary people to "active citizens" with equal rights and duties.

Traditionally and also at present, women are responsible mostly for the household work, children´s education, caring the elder generation and supporting the male members of society. This is also one of the major reasons why women are not able to participate in the public sphere of social and political issues directly. Even if the Constituent Assembly consisted of 33% women it focused only in their representation and not into 'active participation' in the law making process. Very few women are employed in the decision making level of political parties, government sector and in a higher level of work but their voices remain unheeded. In the territory of law, employment, security, foreign policy and trade very few women are involved and much of the decision?making power about the national affairs remains with a small circle of male leaders.

To encourage women to take part in the public affairs at multi-level governance they need to be empowered economically and also politically, so that they can raise their voice in the community, in political parties, media and in the state institutions. Only when that happens we can make sure that their interests are represented at all levels of society and reap equal outcome of development. Nepalese citizens are in the process of negotiating a new social contract which is self?chosen by free and equal citizens?male and female. This is a grand opportunity for women to become an active actor and promote their agencies, like other groups of society, and engage in the state affairs. Political transformation is necessary but it would not be possible unless women are involved in knowledge production, research, policy construction, decision?making and creative social transformation from post-conflict phase to building peace. Gender equality requires a long?term planning in re?socialization of young generation of citizens to make the change process stable and desirable. How can they feel equal in everyday life is vital for their freedom in altering the archaic patriarchal values and institutions in favor of democratic spirit, remove gender gaps in development and achieve equal outcome.

In this context, civic participation of rural women in all aspects of lives is important to instill in women a sense of competence and expose them to the nation's political culture. Disciplinary knowledge is necessary to achieve expertise and find a suitable place in the life of society. But, the conception of emancipation is possible only through enlightenment-the ability of women to critically think, act and reflect in praxis of labor, work, action and social change according to the maxim of a common humanity and universal rights. Above all this, there is also a need to restructure political parties, institutions of media and civil society to make them conflict-sensitive and responsive to special needs of women in the attainment of public role occupation and transform their traditional views about themselves, their faiths and their politics.

Participants

About 170 participants out of which over hundred were women took part in the meeting. Participants came from various backgrounds: government officials, representative from district development office and village development office, NGOs, journalists, lawyers, teachers, different political party representatives and representatives from different women organizations.

Objectives of the Program

Apart from mutual learning and widening knowledge based on interlinked issues of gender, the program discussed on the problems women in Nepal are facing at present in the course of their effective civic participation in the institutions of governance. With this interaction program FES enthused a sense of confidence among men and women that they are entitled with equal constitutional and human rights and responsibilities and familiarized with many affirmative measures for women. Creating a platform of communicative exchange between local people, politicians and high level people is one step to involve and empower women in the state?building process. Women issues taking place in that process means an empowerment of the state of Nepal.

Presentations

There were altogether four major presentations for two days. Ms. Babita Basnet, President, Media Advocacy Group, Nepal and Mr. Kashi Raj Dahal,Constitution expert & President of Administrative Court of Nepal presented on the first day while Ms. Binda Pandey, Member, Central Planning Commission, GEFONT & Deputy member of ILO governing body and Ms. Radha Paudel, founder/president of Action Works Nepal presented on the second day.

The program started with the welcome and introduction by FES Gender Coordinator, Samira Paudel who was also the moderater of the program. In her address she mentioned that women play a vital role in state-building directly and indirectly and specially in our country where half of the population is women, they have to be actively involved in the state-building and policy making. Many women stick themselves inside the household tasks where as some have started shifting their expertise outside household tasks and into the public affairs, which is an achievement but still their voices are not heard. For this we still have to do lot of effort in making them educated, economically empowered and independent.

Chief Justice of Administrative Court, K. R. Dahal spotlighted on legal provisions for the empowerment of women and narrated many gender related cases.

Chairperson of Fundamental Rights Committee of ex-CA, Ms. Binda Panday focused on how women can empower themselves through solidarity at the village, society, political parties and the state. In an interactive style Ms. Panday divulged role of women in various fields, the lost opportunity, current status of women in state institutions, future possibilities for their overall empowerment through capacity building and their social, economic and political contribution in state building through change in attitude, knowledge and practice.

Prof. Ram Sharan Luitel who was as academic of that area said that Nepal is one of the oldest nations of the world. But now it has become weak. We have an opportunity to rebuild it with the owner of all sides including active participation of women. Democratic state is a constitutional state attuned to modern consciousness. Therefore, we need to craft it on the principles of unity in diversity. This is the age of economy and commerce what we can call Baishya yug, which demands production, circulation, job and creation from the family, society, state to international governance. We need to evaluate the relationship between daughter and daughter-in-law and define new identity based on freedom. The women's social burden and household income should be accounted like other jobs and freedom be granted to them.

Ms. Nirmala representative of Women Development Committee asked women participants to express their concern on legal, political and practical matters adding that awareness-building programs to both men and women in rural areas like this can build the social base of democracy.

FES head Dev Raj Dahal explained about the need for civic equation, equality of gender and equal gender outcome. Questions were mainly focused on discrimination in citizenship, property, increased domestic violence, social stigma, negative attitude about those women by men engaged in public sphere, non-implementation of laws, misuse of funds allocated to women at the local level, etc.

The program went ahead with the first presentation from Ms. Babita Basnet who explained about the problems women are facing in their daily life and put the narratives of women issues in national scene through media and civil society. She also said that many women are reluctant to spell the name of her husband as there is a social taboo to do so. Mother is a great teacher. She therefore needs an identity of both person and profession. I was taught to speak before huge audience and big places but was also advised to bend. Socialization is very important factor for the upbringing of girl and women. Men have to face the problem if women face a lack of confidence. Why should daughter's father has to bow before the son-in-law's father in every function. Why women are not getting pension for cooking food at home while men get that for working in five-star hotel. Women's works are largely invisible. In an information society three things are important: information, money and dignity of work for the empowerment of women. Money provides freedom from husband's control, information is crucial for decision-making while value offers the dignity of work. In Nepal's case to demonstrate the capacity of women needs social opportunity to participate in public spheres.

We have to see educational, social, economic and geographical location do not make women homogenous. Similarly, needs of men and women are also different. Violent conflict exposed women to different roles which were occupied by their husbands. In post-conflict phase of reconciliation and rebuilding of societies men find greater world for engagement and forget about the trauma while women's world is squeezed as they have to play the role of both male and female in the family and society facing double burden. Those women whose husbands are disappeared during Maoists People's War increasingly face social stress. Ordinary women require participation-equality, equal opportunity and equal outcome at various levels of governance including the state.

Mr. Kashi Raj Dahal in his presentation, stated that the dependency of women on men on practically all matters has weakened the formers' confidence. They need level playing field. Special care should be taken for women in remote areas, poor and backward communities. Access, participation and representation of women power, resources, institutions and opportunities are crucial indicators for their efficiency. The laws of Nepal have provided women a number of rights on reproduction, health, paternal property, citizenship in the name of mother and protection against gender discrimination. Still, political agencies of women need to be strong to remove the gaps between law and practice, draft women-friendly constitution and create their stake in rebuilding this post-conflict state.

In the second day's presentation Ms. Binda Panday asked the question to the participants on what have women done so far? Post-conflict phase means connection of shattered society and rebuilding relationship. She said that we have contributed to building society, politics and economy. Participation has increased. Decision making system is controlled, it is patrimonial and paternalistic. Therefore, emancipation of women needs elimination of discrimination at home, society, political parties, civil society and the institutions of the state, therefore, they need to be reformed. Transformation requires transformation of self. Women need progressive law and on the basis of that they need to struggle for freedom, justice and peaceful environment. There should be attitude change regarding women. To create civilized society the strong must help the weak. There is proliferation of various groups where women are the members of Mother's group, forestry association, human rights, health, para-legal association, trade unions, cooperation, saving and credits association, etc which are spreading democracy at the deeper level of society but do they engage in decision-making, signature of cheque and minuting? Those who control organization can exert influence on the state. Women's have capacity to run from home to the state. Since women are less represented in law-enforcing agencies violence against women is common. They also need to interfere in political parties because party leaders are the ones that make decisions. Women's caucus group demonstrates the fact that they have the capacity for collective action. If the foundation is strong then they can influence higher level authorities, occupy leadership role and engage in cultural awakening for democratization of political power.

Women educator Ms. Radha Paudel, also a nurse, in her presentation brought the problems of women from Karnali, far-western region of rural area of Nepal. Ms. Poudel asked the participants to identify any model man, and then model political parties in Nepal. They could not. She said that it is important to strengthen the rights of rural women as this helps to build the state from society. It is important to build modern state because statelessness punishes the weaker sections of society and women. Why policy makers did not know the needs of rural women of Karnali and other areas is a moot question here. We are seeking now role of women in state building which might generate fear among men. Because of increasing participation of women the nature of state is changing. Women are also paying tax to the state, therefore, they have every right to participate in state building. Unless they are strong to influence decision we cannot build a strong and virtuous state. The constitution has given equal rights what is constraining women is the condition they live and their socialization about inferiority. In this context, structural reforms are essential to empower women and enable their role as a catalyst of change agents of Nepali society. She narrated the case of women in Jumla where state agencies, lawyers and general public lack gender sensitivity. Therefore, there is a need to make male also gender sensitive which can be done through education and socialization. Changing family environment is the first precondition to build a new culture of democracy. Second is equal justice considerations should be applied to all sections of society. Third is the expansion of the domain of freedom and equal benefits from the institutions of governance.

Floor Discussion

Ms. Savitri Lamichhane: (women Leader) spoke about the caucus of women working across the party lines and creating constituency of the democratization of gender relations. There is a need to monitor whether citizenship is distributed in the name of mother or not as so many complaints have been heard against the Village Development Secretaries denying this. Male should also be educated first as to why violence against gild child and women are occurring and then perpetrators of violence must be punished.

There is a need for the identification of disease, consciousness and punishment by the state. The weakness of the state to apply law has marked the rise of domestic violence and violence against women.

Shuva P. Adhikari: Should women's participation be made compulsory or only legal? Who should be the monitoring agency? Since it is not made compulsory there is only one woman minister in the current cabinet. There is provision of 20 percent representation of women in police and local governance institutions. Women's networks have to be effective to have their impacts on policy and decision-making.

Ms. Shubhadra Adhikari: How can we call Nepal a rule of law regime when criminals are politically protected? So long as political source of crime and corruption is not cleaned it would be difficult to set up good governance. We need a culture of accountability, not impunity as this is an affront to democracy.

Ms. Parvati Luintel: The critical challenge we face now is how to retain youth entering into mass exodus and afflicted by soaring aspirations and consumerism. The state is also not effective in controlling the evils of society such as excessive use of alcohol, girl trafficking, drug abuse, etc. There is also lack of business ethics. In this context, how can we make administration virtuous unless we exonerate politics from the leash of evils.

One participant argued that how can we bring politics serve public interest so long as parties mobilize hooligans and dons and leave people without any constructive role except their power to vote. While another participant asked as to whether the current government is legitimate.

Ms. Savitri Lamichhane: asked when do we get the remedy of violence against women? She narrated the local case pointing that one woman was disappeared in a very safe house. When will the state respond?

Ms. Sabita Sharma: (Single Women) Despite the 51 percent of women's population their access to political decision making is nil as was demonstrated in the Constituent Assembly. In this context, what the state can do to help single women's access and participation in decision making? There is no counting of the service, production and contribution by women. Equal pay for equal work has not been established at the practical level. There should be three kinds of education-skill-oriented, production-based and practical, gender-based education and civic education. A monitoring unit has to be established for the implementation of law. The children of single woman ever desert their mothers. Therefore, widowhood and conflict victim women are virtually traumatized. They need relief and reconciliation.

Dharma P. Luinel: (teacher) why political parties are not organizing roundtable dialogue for breaking the deadlock. Political stability should not try to destabilize the state but work together to reform the patriarchal attitude.

Ms. Maya Devi: (Women Office of DDC) said that since politics is the pivot of state building project they need to be active. There is a transition of women empowerment strategy from WID, WAD and GAD. Rights have to be balanced with responsibilities. Three virtues-political will, knowledge and work are essential. Violence against women should be stopped through rule of law. There should be collaboration between men and women.

Shankar Kafle: (Social Worker) appreciating the arguments of Poudel said the role of women is crucial in the family. Then both parents are engaged in social production, surplus economy and welfare works for the family. Property alone is not sufficient unless there is a mutual understanding in the family. Now we are exporting our young generation for jobs which is not good for the nation. Labor market should be expanded at home through the effective state and enable them to pay tax. The money thus accumulated can be used for the general welfare of citizen-both male and female.

Ms. Sati Devi Thapa: Public security environment for women is essential for their participation in every frontiers of life including state building. We need to first create a rational social order in the society so that women and men do not feel threatened by the circumstances. This enables women to play creative role.

To conclude the program, Samira Paudel said that change has to start from themselves so to begin the change she identified a strong women leader (Ms. Sabitri Lamichhane) of that community who made a concluding remarks. Ms. Lamichhane told that we need to strike a balance in our affinity to society, nation and the state. Only enlightened and active citizens can enforce the accountability of public institutions meant to serve them. Enforcement of gender laws and end of social discrimination can open public sphere for both sections of people and offer opportunity for women to undertake responsibility in the areas of gender justice. Access to justice improves the image of state and binds both the state and society to rule of law.

At the end of the program several participants demanded that this kind of programs should be expanded to all villages and women and teachers should be given special attention as they are the primary agencies of socialization. They also committed to expand the program through their various social organizations. FES head promised to offer advocacy materials free of cost.

The program was ended with the vote of thanks by Samira paudel to all those who contributed to the success of the programs including resource persons and participants.

 
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