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Tag: Sagoon Bhetwal

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

Women in politics: Redefining representation and empowering others

SAGOON Bhetwal

The opinion piece originally appeared in the Online Khabar. Please read the original article here.

Nepal transitioned into a federal state of government after the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal in 2015. One remarkable achievement since this shift has been the significant arrival of women in politics.

A total of 14,352 (40.96 percent) elected representatives in the 2017 local election and 14,407 (41.22 percent) elected representatives in the 2022 local election were women.

Nepal Institute for Policy Research (NIPoRe) recently completed research on ‘Nominations and Electability: The Role of Gender Norms in Nepal’s Local Elections’. The institute, with the support of Advancing Learning and Innovation in Gender Norms (ALIGN), undertook this research to bust stereotypes that are against the political engagement of Nepali women.

As a part of the team, I had the chance to meet and analyse interviews that took place with more than a dozen of women in politics who have had the experience of running for elections, with some who have also been elected to the local government.

Meeting women in politics, witnessing the work they have accomplished, and listening to their aspirations gave me a sense of pride and representation as I first-hand watched women hold spaces and make decisions.

Getting to know women in politics

As I reflected back on the conversations that allowed me to know about women in politics from close, I was able to note similarities between them that qualify as factors that can increase meaningful political engagement of Nepali women.

It is with financial independence, support from family, and education that women can pave a political path for themselves in their community and beyond.

These women have had a history of engagement in their community as they contributed to its welfare in any way possible. While some were active members of the student unions, others have remained socially active through community initiatives while a few were also a part of the Maoist insurgency.

These women in politics have since then continued their engagements as teachers, social workers, and members of women’s associations within political parties.

Almost all these female politicians we interacted with came from some kind of political background and/or had parents and partners who have been supportive of their political interests.

One of the respondents from Rukum said, “When there is support from family, the society also looks at women in politics positively.” Having a supportive family does make a difference in the political participation of women, especially when one has to tackle gender norms that society at large imposes on women.

Importance of financial independence and education

The other factor that was largely emphasised in most of these conversations was financial independence and financial decision-making. The above-mentioned research has also stated how, according to political parties, the winnability of a candidate is defined by their ability to finance elections.

National Population and Housing Census 2021 of Nepal found that only 23.8 percent of families have their land or housing or both in the ownership of a female household member. While this is a very low percentage (although a slight increase from 2011), the bigger concern remains on the decision-making autonomy of such assets.

With limited authority and a low rate of labour force participation, managing finances for female candidates in elections is an arduous task. This acts as a limitation and barres women from running for elections despite being interested and possessing leadership ability.

Another factor that the female candidates we interviewed stressed was the need for education for women and girls. When asked — What should be done to encourage more women in politics and local government?— they emphasised education.

Most of them had acquired education up to or above the high school level. Four of these interviewees were engaged in the teaching profession prior to joining active politics. They shared how their educational background added as an attribute to their profile and how it build their confidence to create a political pathway for themselves.

And so, efforts are needed early on to ensure more women become candidates and acquire chief executive roles in local government. In a patriarchal society that has long seen men at the forefront of politics, it isn’t an easy task to create your hold where you rightfully deserve.

The difficulty starts right at the beginning when contesting for nominations within the political parties and it persists even after. It is hence crucial that we put in efforts to build their ability and also support them throughout their political journey.

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

Women Leading Community Changes in Nepal

– SAGOON Bhetwal

Nepali women have played pivotal roles in various initiatives across communities throughout the country. Their participation has been significant to foster social and community development as they have worked across different fields from building collectives to protecting nature. The blog discusses three cases that are evident to show how women have been the drivers of community changes in Nepal.

Women as Community Forest Preservers

Nepal has been implementing the community forestry program for more than four decades. The program, initiated in the late 1980s, has been able to grow with 22,266 community forest user groups throughout the country. Earlier, policy provisions advocated for 33 percent participation of women within the community forestry programs. While their participation saw a slow start in the beginning years, it has now surged beyond expectation in the Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs). According to Pandey and Pokhrel (2021), after the amendment of the policy provision from 33 percent to 50 percent of women’s participation to be in the executive committees of the CFUGs, the women’s proportion significantly increased beyond 50 percent to date. This shows that women have been leading the efforts to manage and conserve forests across their communities in Nepal. However, given their role as primary users and their participation in natural resource management, the question remains on opportunities provided to them for proactive executive leadership roles within the existing user committees. 

Women as Female Health Care Volunteers

The Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHV) program was initiated by the government of Nepal in FY 1988/1989. These volunteers throughout the last decades have been at the forefront to provide essential basic health care services such as family planning, polio campaigns, maternal and child health programs, immunisation programs, and health education, to name a few. More than 50,000 women across the country today serve as volunteers and act as a bridge between families, communities, and public health facilities. Nepal’s advancement in health, especially in meeting the MDGs and SDGs, can largely be attributed to the proactiveness and consistent contribution of these women. Efforts for polio eradication and other initiatives have been successful through their local leadership. Their contribution to reducing maternal mortality (MM) in Nepal can be taken as an example. MM reduced from 539 in 1996 to 239 per 100,000 live births in 2016. To make this possible, FCHVs have acted as the closest contact in communities and are comparatively affordable for disadvantaged communities which makes them the easiest to reach for services and referrals. Moving forward, it is most important to better recognize their contribution and plan incentives for their continuous participation.

Women as Community Organizers

Ama Samuhas – also known as Mother’s Groups – are the informal organizing of women across grassroots communities in Nepal. Women voluntarily come together to create platforms for dialogue, initiate social awareness programs, organise cultural events, and create mutual funds. They have become the quickest and easiest contact mechanisms, especially for women, during times of difficulty. These groups, majorly, led by women and mothers, give them ample opportunities to form collectives for larger community welfare. They have been successful in creating safe communal platforms where they can exercise power and experience a certain level of independence and autonomy. They especially organise to raise awareness against social issues in their localities that otherwise hamper their basic rights. Additionally, these women also contribute to infrastructural development by leading and assisting in construction and repair works. Hence, with changing scenarios, mother’s groups have also adapted themselves to the local prevailing situations and contributed to diverse needs on issues ranging from infrastructural development to social reforms.

Women and their activeness in local community initiatives have in such ways been remarkable. Nepali women, despite the engraved patriarchal values of Nepali society, have defied the odds and been present at the forefronts of change time and again. The leadership roles that they have showcased have undoubtedly inspired the next generation of young people, especially women, and girls. It is now also our responsibility to acknowledge their leadership, provide what they deserve for their efforts, and better plan the continuation of what they have initiated.

This blog is a part of NIPoRe’s blog series on International Women’s Month 2023.

OP-EDs and Columns

Missing Dalits in Research Bodies


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 12 March 2023. Please read the original article here.

Research institutions in Nepal have constantly been pushing for inclusive development. Their push for evidence-based policymaking can shed light on social challenges and also guide us to create interventions to benefit marginalised communities. However, most Nepali research institutions promoting inclusive governance, human development and social justice do not reflect the diversity of Nepali society.

We can find that practices of mentoring/ advising had been carried out earlier by rulers in the country. While high-caste Brahmins led such practices, advisory bodies such as PanchakachariDharmiksava, and Vardarisava were formed during the Lichhavi and Malla dynasties. Likewise, pandit groups were such advisors during the Rana and Shah dynasty. These groups would advise the rulers based on Hindu philosophies and texts such as Manusmriti. Caste duties were performed based on their advice and mentoring. However, the legacy of such practices is still continuing through established research institutions. Be it governmental or private/non-governmental institutions, their composition predominantly consists of the upper caste and class.

Except for Samsodhan Mandal, which was established in 1952, private and non-governmental research organisations were established after the political change of 1990. In a study carried out in 2000, titled Nepal Ka Jatiya Prashna: Samajik Banaut Ra Sajhedariko Sambhawana, Govind Neupane analysed the ethnicity in the academic and administrative units of the Tribhuvan University (TU). He presented the institution as a Khas Sansthan based on its composition.

Later, in 2002, Krishna Hachhetu studied the social profile of researchers and professors affiliated with TU. He looked into the History, Political Science, Economics, Sociology and Anthropology departments, and research institutions under TU, including the Centre for Nepal and South Asian Studies (CNAS) and the Centre for Economic Development and Administration (CEDA). According to the study, only 11 percent among the 157 members of that organisation were women. Among them, 88 percent were Brahmin and Chhetri, 26 percent were Newar, and 5 percent other hill tribes. Similarly, there were only 8 percent Terai Madheshis, none of whom were Dalits. (Krishna Hachhetu, CNAS, Vol. 29 (1), P. 49-95, 2002). In the same way, Kiran Gautam analysed the caste profile of the initial committee of the Nepal Pragya Pratisthan from 2012 to 2072. The leadership of the Pratisthan consisted of 63 percent Brahmin-Chhetri, 20 percent Newar, 6 percent Madheshi, 5 percent Rai-Limbu, 2 percent Gurung and Magar, and 1 percent Thakali and Dalits. Another government body active in knowledge production is the Policy Research Institute, holding 73 percent Brahmin Chhetri, 15 percent Newars and 12 percent Dalits. Similarly, Madheshi, Gurung, and Jirel have one percent representation each and Tamang two percent (Himal Monthly, Sharwan, 2079 BS). The studies mentioned above show that the diversity of Nepali society is not seen in our knowledge-production institutions, especially those led by the government. The gap in social inclusion remains the same in non-governmental research institutions.

I have analysed the team composition of the leading 15 non-governmental research institutions in Nepal, which consisted of their board members, advisors, staff, interns and volunteers. Be it an institute with nine members or another with 50 members, the inclusion of Dalit team members lingered at just one individual (with the exception of two institutions). To great disappointment, around 10 such institutes did not even have a single individual from the Dalit community. Similarly, the inclusion of women in these institutions is equally disappointing. Only 6 of the 15 institutions had 50 or higher percentage of women members as directors and research staff. This exclusion of Dalits and marginalised communities in non-governmental research institutions raises two major concerns. First, our research sphere has become exclusive to the upper and privileged caste/ class. Despite changing societal context, the composition portrays that knowledge production is still meant to be led by a certain few. Such exclusions based on knowledge also determine who gets to hold power. As Michel Foucault has said, “The exercise of power perpetually creates knowledge and, conversely, knowledge constantly induces effects of power”. Therefore, it is not just about representation—a matter of acknowledging existence. Rather, our research institutions need to become inclusive to indeed welcome the presence and perspectives of Dalits and produce knowledge with their contribution and leadership. Second, the knowledge we produce is biased when we speak from our perspective and speak for the community rather than speaking with the community. The chances are high that issues of Dalits won’t be taken as a matter of urgency when nobody is in the team to put it forward. This is evident with the inadequate research on the status of the Dalit community. And even if a matter arises, the narrative can be flawed when based on assumptions rather than experiences.

Under the caste system, Brahmins were put at the top of the hierarchy and were endorsed as intellectuals. This rigid system prohibited producing knowledge and disseminating spheres to the bottom-level people and the people outside the system. But what’s the worth of our research institutions if they don’t represent the people we advocate for and become exclusive to a privileged few? Therefore, we can urge that the exclusive nature of research institutions is deliberately created to support the caste system for dehumanising Dalits through producing single narratives. The contribution of research institutions is undoubtedly significant and needs to be fostered. But such contributions can be questioned if their producing members and production are not representative of the diverse community that our policies will later impact. It is of utmost importance to be based on evidence that relays people’s status and lived experiences as we plan and carry out our development initiatives. As we identify our policy agendas, we should be able to prioritise the needs of marginalised communities that comprise a significant proportion of our population and who have historically, socially, and systematically suffered the most. This should also reflect in the composition of the institutions we create.

Research institutions create discourse about centring the most marginalised while making policies and uplifting them. But sadly, we have already fallen back because of their inability to ensure inclusion in the team they work with for such purposes. So, let’s start by questioning our institutions while we continue questioning our development priorities.

OP-EDs and Columns

Failed promises of transitional justice in Nepal


The opinion piece originally appeared in the Online Khabar on 9 March 2023. Please read the original article here.

The 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) formally ended Nepal’s decade-long Maoist insurgency (1996-2006). As transitional justice mechanisms follow such a post-conflict scenario to properly address the cases of human rights violations that happen during the conflict with the aim to foster peace, two bodies were established to facilitate transitional justice in Nepal, namely the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP).

But 17 years down the line, promises of transitional justice in Nepal largely failed with almost all sides involved in the process dissatisfied. A recent lawsuit filed against Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal can be considered the epitome of dissatisfaction, which paints an uncertain picture of the future.

Transitional justice in Nepal: Principle and practice

According to the Office of the Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Transitional justice consists of both judicial and non-judicial mechanisms, including truth-seeking, prosecution initiatives, reparations, and various measures to prevent the recurrence of new violations”.

Accordingly, to facilitate transitional justice in Nepal, a few years after the CPA, the first Constituent Assembly passed and the President approved legislation known as The Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Act 2014 (TRC Act).

However, the TRC Act has been a major controversy since the beginning, keeping transitional justice in Nepal in constant uncertainty. The Supreme Court of Nepal in the Suman Adhikari vs Government of Nepal case in 2015 stated that the act was against the constitution and also against existing international obligations. Even more baffling was the government’s review petition for the 2015 decision, which the Supreme Court rejected on April 27, 2020.

Recent responses

Fast forward to 2022, the discussion around the amendment of the act and transitional justice in Nepal as a whole, yet again, came forward without much optimism.

The Ministry of Law,  Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs tabled a bill in the parliament on July 15, 2022, to amend the existing TRC Act but it remained widely criticised. The division of human rights violations into two categories in the bill (human rights violations and grave human rights violations) was called out for not considering war crimes and crimes against humanity as grave human rights violations, and rather, creating a possible pathway for amnesties.

The National Human Rights Commission then provided a 12-point suggestion and asked that the categorisation of these crimes should be based on the existing international humanitarian laws and instruments. The bill has now already turned null and void with the expiry of the then House of Representatives (HoR) on September 22, 2022.

But this case has been evident to show how transitional justice in Nepal’s case – in the true sense and in accordance with international law – has not been a matter of priority. With the war-era cases coming to the front by different parties again, the issue is in the limelight today again.

On March 5, 2023, nine political parties issued a statement to showcase their commitment to ensuring transitional justice. They have also assured that bill(s) related to transitional justice will be tabled in the federal parliament in the ongoing session. While they have mentioned that the bill(s) will be in compliance with previous Supreme Court orders, one shall not be surprised if it still creates loopholes to foster impunity.

Transitional justice in Nepal has now become of interest also because a writ petition against the incumbent Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in relation to conflict-era crimes has been filed in the Supreme Court. These political developments have sparked a little hope but also scepticism amongst people as to what political give and take might be making their way in between. However, there is still no certainty as to when justice will finally be ensured.

Persistent failure

Alongside such legal developments, it has also been disappointing to witness the failure of the institutions formed for transitional justice in Nepal. Clause 5.2.5 of the CPA states, “Both sides agree to set up a high-level TRC through a mutual agreement in order to investigate truths about people seriously violating human rights and involved in crimes against humanity, and to create an environment of reconciliations in the society”. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons  (CEIDP) were hence established in February 2015.

But the trust in the established mechanisms and institutions to achieve transitional justice in Nepal eroded when such independent commissions failed to fulfil their due functions. The tenures of these commissions – once established in 2015 – were set for two years but they have been receiving multiple extensions with revisions in the existing act. In a similar manner, the government on July 15, 2022, extended the term of both commissions by three more months, which again, expired on October 17, 2022. The commissions have since then remained non-functioning as no leadership appointments have been made.

The Maoist insurgency resulted in the deaths and disappearances of thousands of innocent people and many still await to see those who committed wartime atrocities to be punished. The CPA had promised to release the details of missing or killed people, but families are still seeking the whereabouts of their dear ones. Multiple governments have disregarded the urgency of the issue and have been unable to address the concerns of the victims and families. Sexual violence survivors still live with the trauma despite being promised special protection for their rights.

A cycle of impunity in such ways has followed the war which has also been repeatedly questioned by the international community. In 2022, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists collectively called out the prioritisation of justice for conflict victims. Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), during her visit to Nepal last month also urged the government to deliver promises of transitional justice.

The CPN-Maoist Centre, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have led the government but made no substantive efforts to move forward with transitional justice in Nepal. Rather, the current government led by the wartime leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal declared February 13 a public holiday to mark People’s War Day. How can one mark it as a happy occasion when no respect has been paid to the rule of law and no significant effort taken to deliver justice?

An extension of the term is not the solution

The only step taken towards transitional justice in Nepal so far is for the extension of the transitional justice commissions. These commissions have received thousands of complaints but not even a single one remains resolved to date. Section 42.1 of the TRC Act states that the government can take steps to remove any difficulty that may arise in the implementation of the act. Yet, the constant failure to amend the act in line with international law and maintain the transparent and efficient functioning of the commissions has stalled transitional justice in Nepal.

Amid all this, Nepal has remained inattentive to the physical and mental exhaustion of victims as they wait for justice and peace. Moving forward, it is also important to focus on non-judicial mechanisms including reconciliation and trauma healing to provide justice, address the causes of violence, and transform relations.

OP-EDs and Columns

Women’s Hardships in Informal Economy

– SAGOON Bhetwal

The opinion piece originally appeared in the December Issue of New Business Age Magazine. Please read the original article here.

One can easily get glimpses of the informal economy while passing through the streets of Kathmandu. From street vendors to home-based workers, the informal economy accounts for economic activities that are carried out with informality. This refers to activities and enterprises that are not regulated or taxed while they also continue to lose recognition and protection. The International Labor Organisation (ILO) says that ‘the informal economy consists of activities that have market value but are not formally registered’. While this economy is a global phenomenon, it is most prevalent in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDEs). It has, on average, a 35% contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in low and middle-income countries while the contribution is 15% in the advanced economies.

According to the World Bank (WB), 80% of the workers in South Asia are involved in informal economic activities. In this region, more than 90% of businesses are informal. The informal economy is mostly defined by its composition of low funding, low-skilled workers, irregular income, lack of social security, difficult working conditions, low level of productivity and lack of protection, to list a few. At the same time, it is also important to note that despite all the negative attributes, this economy also acts as the only safety net for people who are left out of the formal one. It is often identified as a shock absorber when making ends meet becomes impossible through the formal economy. In Nepal, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 62.2% of the total employed people are engaged in informal jobs. The occupations with the highest informal engagement are elementary occupations, agriculture, forestry, fishery, craft and related trade works.

Gender Composition
Women’s labour force participation continues to stay lower even today. Out of those women who are active, most are engaged in the informal economy. As per the Labour Force Survey, 90.5% of employed women in Nepal have informal jobs. A number of factors can be attributed to their large concentration such as lower educational attainment, low level of skill, and cultural restrictions. Their involvement can be found in the least visible and most vulnerable segments which continue to remain under-valued.

Women lack access to need-based benefits and face continuous safety risks. A study carried out by Centre for Social Change (CSS) found that women in the informal economy of Nepal face a disproportionate load of gender wage gap, discrimination and harassment, and even unpaid labour. The constant fear of Gender Based Violence (GBV) either puts women at continuous risk at their workspace or keeps them totally out of employment. According to a study done by CARE Nepal, 66.5% of women in informal jobs in Nepal are vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Even the existing legal provisions such as Sexual Harassment (Elimination) at Workplace Act, 2015 do not take into account the violence that happens in informal workspaces and lack specific provisions to address them.

When it comes to differences in income, 66.8% of women in informal jobs earn lower than the minimum wage standard in Nepal. This is extremely high when compared to 31.6% of men working in the informal sector. Wage discrimination persists even in formal jobs, while it is worse for those in informal engagements. What is concerning here is that women are the most discriminated-against as they receive the lowest rate of income or even remain unpaid.

Informal Economy and Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic, followed by its containment measures, took economies worldwide into contraction. The ILO estimates that globally 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy were hit the hardest. Due to measures such as mobility restrictions, people were confined to their homes. This meant that they faced difficulty in making livelihoods as their income increased. They also faced risk of losing their jobs. A survey conducted by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) shows 81% of the respondents living in Kathmandu were unable to pay for their daily necessities, rent, and loans because of the sudden loss of their jobs.

Informal workers engaged in tourism, trade, construction, and manufacturing sectors bore the highest risk as they lost income and lacked protection measures. The ILO estimates that about three-quarters of the total workers in the tourism sector of Nepal are in informal jobs. Even some of those, employed in formal sectors, had to slowly shift to an informal job to make ends meet. COVID-19 further affected their mental and social well being because of the financial insecurity they faced. The pandemic has shown that vulnerability of informal workers can suddenly exacerbate as workers in informal lines of jobs lack social protection and benefits.

Transitioning from Informal to Formal
Shifting to formal standards for wage workers, home-based workers, and self-employed individuals means that they will have to comply under regulations that include both obligations and advantages. This will lead to their contribution to the tax base and GDP as they also receive access, protection and insurance. The ILO in 2015 adopted ‘Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation’. The objectives of ILO Recommendation 204 for the transition are i) creation of decent jobs and sustainable enterprises in formal economy, ii) transition of workers and enterprises to formal economy, and iii) prevention of informalisation of jobs. At the same time, the policy interventions needed to address the existing informality have to be context and stakeholder specific. The strategy that works for wage employees in developed countries might not always work for daily wage earners in Nepal.

However, it is important to realise that this transition is not easy and is rather a long-term process. The informal economy, despite entailing low productivity and low income, has been assisting families to supplement their income and provide a safety net. It has also been absorbing surplus labour and assisting families living on the poverty line when the formal economy excludes them. In the process, the condition of women in the economy and post-pandemic recovery has to be prioritised. It now becomes important for governments to identify how the informal economy can be assisted or decide the extent and process of their formalisation. One thing to remember is that workers need to be provided the incentive for their economic activities.

OP-EDs and Columns

Combating violence against women in politics

– SAGOON Bhetwal

The column originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 12 December 2022. Please read the original article here.

Violence against women (VAW)—a form of severe human rights violation—has remained pervasive around the world, leaving women and girls in distress and affecting their potential. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines VAW as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Unequal power relations result in domination, which is also a manifestation of VAW. This is perceptible around us, be it on the streets or in Parliament. When women engage in politics as voters, activists, and lawmakers, they face a threat and subjugation, primarily because of their gender. Women politicians, though, have been defying norms that otherwise expect them to remain passive. But violence has often been used to reinforce political structure(s) favouring patriarchy and to suppress women politicians from voicing their opinions freely and independently.

In a 2018 study carried out by the inter-parliamentary union (IPU), 85.2 percent of the interviewed women members of the Parliaments in Europe reported having faced psychological violence in Parliament. From Marielle Franco of Brazil, who was known to be a fierce activist, to Angiza Shinwari of Afghanistan, who constantly defended women’s rights, many women politicians have even had to lose their lives when they voiced against gender-based injustices. Women in politics across all borders and in all countries face similar risks and fears as they question the status quo.

What women politicians face around the globe and also in Nepal is a reflection of the wider gender discrimination that occurs across social, cultural, and economic fronts. A study conducted in India, Nepal, and Pakistan on “Violence Against Women in Politics” identified sexual favour, character assassination, verbal harassment, threats, and emotional blackmail as violence against women politicians. Such acts have taken new forms through new means in recent decades, including cases involving harassment by total strangers on social media platforms. An Analysis of Gender Violence in Social Media Against Women in Politics in Nepal found that the most common attacks on women politicians were insults and hate speech.

Ensure legal protection

We have long pushed for the political participation of women in our democracies. However, where we have failed time and again is at ensuring mechanisms in place for their security in political spaces. Our patriarchal political systems are resistant to change and violent, when challenged. And when women do so to demand equal participation, they face violence risks.

The first step towards fighting violence against women in politics is identifying and acknowledging them. This can be done by either expanding our existing laws or pushing new legislation(s). In 2012, Bolivia approved a “Law against Harassment and Political Violence against Women” to criminalise any such acts that threaten the political participation of women and their access to decision-making spaces. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—also considered the International Bill of Rights for Women—obliges countries to take such needed “measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life.” This should entail the right of women to vote in elections, be eligible to be elected in elections, hold public offices, and contribute to formulating government policies. In Nepal, the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention) Act, 2014, does include government bodies within the definition of the workplace and has made such acts liable to punishment. Besides that, there is an absence of incorporation of the concept of violence against women in politics and also legislation that specifically covers all aspects of VAW.

Activism against VAW in politics

Feminist movements have been playing significant roles in advancing the rights of women and girls. Activism is one of the pathways forward to combat violence women face in political engagements. It works to ensure attention and initiate discourse on violence in the political sphere against women, a matter often denied. At the same time, activism can exert influence to build seriousness and even determine what institutional and legal reforms should look like. In France, for example, a hashtag movement called #levonslomerta (end the silence) was initiated by activists and politicians demanding actions to end VAW within political organisations. Such initiatives are needed to build public opinion and, more importantly, solidarity against normalised behaviours that risk women in politics.

A large force of women, 41.21 percent, are already in local governments, and many will soon join the Parliament and assemblies of the country. It becomes the responsibility of the incoming government, political parties, civil society, and elected representatives to collectively ensure that the government bodies and political spaces of Nepal are safe and have zero tolerance for VAW in politics. It also requires the combined effort of activism and reform, along with gender sensitisation at all levels.

Because the patriarchal values of our society continue to define power relations and gender roles, they undermine the position of women in power. VAW in politics differs from political violence as it is more sexualised, used to preserve the status quo and deter political engagement of women. This is even more worrisome for those with intersecting identities who are at greater risk of facing axes of discrimination and violence. The fear of violence limits the possible political activeness of women and creates hurdles for those already in the political arena to make their best contribution.

We should, therefore, realise how a threat to women in politics is, largely, a threat to our entire democracy. Or else, every time the legitimacy of women in politics is questioned, it will simultaneously raise questions on the progress that we claim to have made in terms of their political participation.

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

The Global Gender Gap Report: Has South Asia Progressed?

Sagoon Bhetwal

The World Economic Forum (WEF) annually releases the Global Gender Gap Report. WEF, with this report, helps the world leaders to understand better how their governments fare in terms of minimizing existing gender gaps. It published the first report in 2006 using indicators across four subindexes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Education Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. In 2021, the report highlighted that it would take 135.6 years to close the existing global gender gap. With some improvements, the 2022 report was revised to 132 years. In this blog, I will try to answer questions like: Where does South Asia stand in terms of gender parity? Have we seen growth in our region, or rather, decline?

To begin with, the WEF defines the gender gap as “the difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments and attitudes”. The subindexes receive scores from 0 (which indicates perfect gender imparity) to 1 (which indicates perfect gender parity). 

South Asia remains one of the poor performers in the analysis. In 2021, the region ranked second last among the eight regions considered for the analysis, with a parity score of 62.3 percent. The region’s performance further slided in 2022 and ranked the lowest.  has become the lowest performer with the same parity score. South Asia, in the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, has improved the region’s score from 33.8 percent in 2021 to 35.7 percent in 2022. Still, this is the lowest performance out of all the regions. North America is leading the progress with a parity of 77.4 percent. Afghanistan, one of the major ranked countries from South Asia, has been ranked in the last position (of the total 146 ranked countries) with a score of just 0.176. China, another key rising global economy, on the other hand, ranks in the 37th position (score 0.741). 

In 2022, South Asia  ranks in the second last position under the Educational Attainment subindex with the score from 93.3 percent in 2021 to 93.2 percent in 2022. Under this subindex as well, Afghanistan ranks in the last position further sliding in overall score from 0.514 in 2021 to 0.482 in 2022. China, on the other hand, has here managed to rank in 120th position (score 0.936), thus ranking above Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. 

Likewise, South Asia in the Health and Survival subindex has a parity of 94.2 percent for both the years. The score is still the lowest possible regional score. Under this subindex, India ranks in the last position (among all the ranked countries) with a score of 0.937. However, in 2021, India was just a step ahead of China (ranked last with a score of 0.935).

Finally, under the Political Empowerment subindex, parity score for South Asia has declined from 28.1 percent in 2021 to 26.2 percent in 2022. Despite this decline, the region still remains the fourth best performer in this subindex. Here, China ranks in 120th position (score 0.113), just ahead of Bhutan (score 0.093). Bhutan, as of 2022, remains the lowest performer for this subindex in the region while India is the best performer. 

South Asia, overall, has a parity score of 62.3 percent in 2022, which is 5.8 percent less than the global average of 68.1 percent. The parity score of the region was the same in 2021, against the global average score of 67.7 percent. The 2022 Report has highlighted that South Asia requires 197 years to close the gender gap in the region, far more years than that of global average. Hence, being the worst performing region in the world, it is high time that the governments in the region take national and well-coordinated regional approaches to minimize staggering gender-based gaps.