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Loktantra: Civic Education and Women Rights

One-day seminar jointly organized by the Modern Kanya Multiple College and FES in Kathmandu

07 March 2015

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

Democracy and civic education. Yes, they have symbiotic ties. For a robust and functional democracy, the role of civic education is uppermost. Civic education enlightens citizens about their rights and duties in a democratic dispensation. Only active and conscious citizens are capable to live up to the ideals of democracy. Informed and enlightened citizens rightly exercise their ballots during the election. They are not carried away by the demagogue and fraudsters. Their democratic insights enable them to choose right, honest and competent candidates and the victory of such people strengthen the credentials of parliament that formulates vital laws of the land. Passive and gullible people succumb to the hollow promises of politicians and their election to the sacrosanct elected body hardly give a right direction to the nation as the dubious politicians are often guided by the vested interests and narrow circle of elitist politics. And civic education serves as an antidote to amoral and parochial politics. It also works as a deterrent to the regional and ethnic populism.

In a similar manner, civic education helps promote women rights. As civic education engineers democracy from the below, this also offers an intellectual weapon for the fairer sex to advance their cause. It is a common fact that Nepali society is characterized by entrenched gender discrimination. Civic education is the education about enlightenment and perfection of good life of citizens. Enlightenment values are the keys to citizens' participation in life-situation and self-determination and decision-making. As the civic education transforms an individual from people to citizen, the women folks can make optimal use of new found awareness to liberate themselves from bondage, economic dependency and various forms of minute gender disparities. A confident and competent woman is unlikely to endure domestic violence and fall prey to rapists.

Realising the role of civic education in promoting Loktantra and women rights, the Modern Kanya Multiple College and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal office organized one-day seminar 'Loktantra: Civic Education and Women Rights' in the capital that also marked the International Working Women Day of the year. Attended by large number curious girl students, the event saw women politicians, lawmakers and scholars putting forth their views on civic education and its role in enhancing the women rights within a democratic set-up.

Minister for Energy Radha Gyawali called for strengthening the women movement to ensure the women's access to health, education and employment opportunities.

She said that existing social structures were responsible for the plight of women. "The male-dominated society from the very beginning instills an idea into us that women are weak creature. We should do away with this false consciousness. We need to end also a situation in which the males give and females receive. The women should work hard to be bona fide citizen of the nation."

The women are fighting for the rights to recognize her offspring through her surname.

"When we are pregnant, we are not in a position to work on par with the males. So the women need special provision to ensure their right."

She said that the present government had taken historic initiatives to develop the energy sector.

"The Power Development Agreement and Power Trade Agreement with the Indian companies are major gains of the present government. These have opened the door for the development of energy sector in Nepal," said Minister Gyawali.

Gyawali said that a section of media had disseminated fabricated news about her decisions and works at the ministry.

Chairman of Administrative Court Kashi Raj Dahal said that it was only through the civic education that democratic values and norms were translated into practice.

"By merely incorporating the rights of people in the constitution is not sufficient. They should be fully realized in the daily life and this is possible through the civic education. Even the women have to rise above their gender boundary and try to become the citizens," he added.

He said that the people had to learn to take pride in their culture. We need the students, who want to study history and culture.

Stating that democracy is the composite of equality, liberty, fraternity and opportunity, local elections renew democracy at the grassroots.

Civic education boosts reconciliation: Dahal

FES, Nepal office head Dev Raj Dahal said that civic education helps acquire maturity, make critical judgment; promote democracy and active citizenship; build national identity and close gender and intergenerational gaps.

"Civic education is the education about enlightenment and perfection of good life of citizens. Enlightenment values are the keys to citizens' participation in life-situation and self-determination and decision-making. Internal vigilance of every person seeks to bridge the gap between knowledge and wisdom and order and free will," he said.

"Civic education is a praxis- use of critical knowledge to shape positive attitude towards the nation and polity and create norms that are socially binding," he added.

He further stated that civic education is important for a society like Nepal for reconciliation of various identities.

"The will and capacity of Nepali women for social change largely rests on building capacity for becoming equal citizen and closing the gender gaps in every sphere of life.

The transmission of civic knowledge to many generations of citizens can give impetus to those native civic values of giving, charity, healing and safeguarding social peace lying dormant underneath the dialectics of central power, build social ties and engineer democracy from below. It seeks to foster normative consensus on democratic values across the political parties of various hues and repair state-citizenship ties," Dahal said in the conclusion.

Lawmaker Om Devi Shrestha Malla said that practical education is better than the learning by rote. "Loktantra should guarantee education to all citizens. Civic education help develop critical thinking so as to discern between good and bad things. There is the need for enhancing the women access to politics to end discrimination against women."

Programme officer at the FES Office CD Bhatta said that the male-dominated structures needed to be changed to ensure women empowerment.

"There is the need for balancing between right and duty. Something is amiss in our education system. It is not fulfilling the need of the nation. It is essential to link it with culture and tradition," added Bhatta.

Putting his views on freedom and equality, Bhatta said that the rich prefer freedom while the poor go for equality.

He said that the East and the West vastly differ in their societal and cultural values. Therefore, it is not wise to impose western values here blindly. "Our political system has failed to embrace the local cultural values. It could not abide by rajdharma."

Stating that no any religion in the world promotes violence against women, Bhatta said that the politics has turned into a profession, not a means of service to the people and community.

Professor Harindra Thapaliya said that women should be self-confidence and mentally strong. "Capacity building is key to women empowerment."

Chairman of the management committee of Multiple Kannya College Ram Prasad Dahal said that education was the key to the women empowerment and the women must reach decision-making and implementing levels to realize the various rights of women.
"The women should be strong enough within their own houses before they wage a battle for equality outside the home," he added.

Journalist Anita Bindu said that women representation in the state mechanism is very negligible and, therefore, the 33 per cent provision for women participation in the every organ of the state needs to be implemented effectively.

Acting Secretary Jeewan Prabha Lama said that the rise of women employees to the upper echelon of bureaucracy is often blocked by the patriarchic mindset. "The more you are, more you are empowered. So the women need to be equipped with information."

Education key to women upliftment

Journalist Neha Sharma had presented her working paper on 'Loktantra: Education and Women Rights' in the seminar where a host of speakers put forth their views on the women rights and civic education.

Summary of Sharma's paper: In order to end women dependency on men, imparting education to the former is necessary. This will improve socio-economic conditions of women, thereby ensuring gender equality. It is also essential to increase women access to education to bring an end to blind beliefs, superstitions, dowry system, unemployment and chhaupadi tradition. Education and women are interlinked with each other. Until the women become educated, their rights are not guaranteed. Many national and international legislation and laws have been devised in the favour of women but many women are not aware of this fact largely owing to lack of consciousness. There has been dominance of men in the decision-making as women are less educated.

Loktantra, education and women rights are complementary with each other. Without Loktantra, we cannot imagine press freedom, right to expression, civil rights and federalism. Until and unless civil rights are ensured, the slogan of equal rights and women rights are merely confined to slogans. A rule of law is important to ensure the civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights. It is imperative to establish inclusive state with human rights and Loktantra as its core values. This requires that political parties should bring an end to the current transition through consensus and co-work. Without the participation Nepalese women that make up of 51 per cent of total population, it is impossible to carry economic development and restore a lasting peace. Both the males and females need to foster a feeling of mutual harmony, not the embittered rivalry, to move the nation on the path of development by institutionalizing Loktantra. The state should ensure equal educational opportunity for the women so that they will not leave the schools in the middle of their studies. If every house takes pride in women education, this will be indeed a big change in the society.

Holding the floor, Sharmila Koirala said that the country had seen the opening of myriad schools and colleges to cater for the need of modern education but moral or spiritual education was missing there. "Moral education has been replaced by the modern education and we stopped teaching history in the class rooms."
Anju Karki said that the women had fallen behind their male counterpart owing to discriminatory laws and policies. "The state needs to devise stringent laws to punish the rapists so that violence against women would decline substantially."

The one-day seminar also endorsed a seven-point resolution

1. To respect male and female equally,
2. To play a role from respective places to respect and instill faith in Loktantra,
3. To forge unity among women to ensure women rights in the constitution and laws,
4. To work to be good citizen through the civic education and by translating the values of Loktantra into practice,
5. The students and teachers of Modern Multiple College to present themselves as role model in the society and conduct accordingly, and engage in the clean-up campaign in the college,
6. Teachers should teach civic education in the college once in a month or two,
7. The students show the commitment and loyalty to the nation, respect the seniors and take pride in culture.

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