The political representation of women in Nepal has improved markedly since the overthrow of the monarchy and the implementation of a federal system. Legal provisions implemented by the Government of Nepal can be largely attributed to this increase in women’s political representation. Article 84 of the Constitution of Nepal states that at least one-third of the total women elected in the federal parliament need to be women. In terms of the local level, Section 17(4) of the Local Level Election Act 2017 states that a political party must field a woman in either the mayor/ chairperson or deputy mayor/ vice-chairperson position. It is also legally mandatory to appoint a female ward member and a Dalit female ward member at the ward level. While all these provisions have ensured the political participation and representation of women, the past two elections have shown that there is still work needed to be done with regard to the proper implementation of these provisions so that meaningful political participation of women can be ascertained.
In the 2017 local-level elections, 40.95 percent of the total elected representatives were women. There was a slight improvement in 2022 with women being 41.21 percent of the total elected representatives. However, in both elections, the target set to achieve 50 percent representation of women was not met. In addition, to fulfill the legal provisions political parties ended up fielding a large number of women as candidates for Deputy positions in 2017. In contrast, in 2022, due to the political parties forming coalitions, only one candidate was fielded by one political party in mayor/ chief and deputy positions which could be either of the genders. Because of this, the tickets went largely to male candidates while drastically decreasing the number of female candidates. The nominations reflect this – while 3593 women were nominated as deputy chiefs in 2017, 3077 women were nominated as deputy chiefs in 2022 (Data from Election Commission). Furthermore, while it is mandatory for all ward levels to have one Dalit women member, 176 units and 123 units in 2017 and in 2022, respectively, did not field Dalit women candidates.
These incidents show that creating legal provisions is not enough to ensure the participation of women, rather, constant supervision is needed to ensure the correct implementation of the legal provisions. Although the Election Commission has been active in responding to the concerns raised regarding women’s participation in the electoral system, it has still been one step behind with its decisions coming after loopholes have been utilised by the parties. Women’s rights activists and legal experts are the ones who have been raising the alarm on this trend of political parties utilising legal loopholes to shaft women in their nomination and offered positions. Few female cadres and leaders have also raised their voices against their party’s reluctance to give candidacies to women.
In 2017, the political parties were criticised for giving women candidacies in only deputy/vice-chairperson positions. In 2022, parties were again criticised for using coalitions to give candidacy only to male candidates. In the case of Dalit women representatives, a major criticism remains that parties only look for Dalit women to field as candidates during election time.
While the public and activists can draw the attention of political parties to the task, the onus remains on political parties to encourage the political participation of women from grassroot level and to fulfill and even exceed the provisions as guaranteed by the constitution. Unless the political parties take lead on this issue, women’s political participation and representation will always be on the margins.
This blog is a part of NIPoRe’s blog series on Women’s History Month 2023