As Nepal enters the final phase of elections for local governments in Province 2 on September 18, data from Election Commission shows that Nepal’s political parties, from the highest to the lowest levels, are intent on denying women their fair share of power.
One of the most frequent claims made following the two rounds of election was the increased power of women in the newly elected local governments. Overwhelming section of the media was telling Nepalis and the rest of the world about the expansion of women’s role in politics.
At a superficial level, the celebration seems reasonable. More woman than ever before have entered local government. Yet, when one looks at the distribution of women across the political offices, it is evident that the real winner have been men.
Many have attributed the increased number of women representatives to two provisions in the Local Level Election Act 2017. The first provision, which mandates that one of the candidates for the executive position—mayor or chairperson, or their deputies—should be a woman, was aimed at ensuring the representation of women at highest levels of local government. One seat each is also reserved a woman and a female Dalit member at ward level—again based on the same logic of greater democracy.
But parties across the board have made the most cynical use of that provision. Instead of keeping a fair mix of men and women in both the main and deputy executive positions, they have cornered women near-exclusively to deputy positions. The most powerful executive positions in local governments are reserved for men.
For instance, consider the state of women candidature for the upcoming round of local elections. None of the five major parties in Province 2—Maoist Centre, Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Nepali Congress, Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN), and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN)—have more than two female candidates for mayor. This, from a total of 77 possible seats. The same is true for the 59 positions available for chairpersons of rural municipalities.
Such skewed gender balance ensures the results will be, as usual, dominated by men. If the results of the major three parties in the last two rounds of local elections are considered, only 2.2 percent of the mayors and chairpersons are women. One percent women make it as the ward chief. And among the open candidates, only around 2 percent are women.
On the other hand women make well over 90 percent of the deputy positions. What we are therefore seeing is a segregation of the sexes in the political offices. Defying the rationale and optimism of the Constitution, which seeks, through the first amendment, a proportional inclusion of women in all state bodies, Nepal’s political class has vengefully denied women politicians a rightful share.
This report is based on data analysis by Bhola Paswan and Shubhanga Pandey.