NEPAL: In Polls, an Uphill Battle for Women

Monday, October 28, 2013
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

If history is anything to go by, women candidates fielded by the three major parties—UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN-UML—have only around 27 percent chances of winning the November election under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) poll system.

Of the 64 constituencies where 71 women from these parties are contesting the polls, 17 belong to the parties that won the 2008 CA election in the 17 constituencies they have been now fielded.

However, the chances of these 17 women winning appear slim when taken into account the number of heavyweights from other parties that have been pitted against them. For example, Maoist candidate Bimala Subedi won from Nuwakot-1 in the last election , increasing her chances of winning from the same constituency this time. But NC leader Arjun Narsingh KC who is contesting the polls from the same constituency is not a weak candidate.

Another Maoist candidate, Lila Kumari Bhandari, who won from Kailali-6 is now standing against NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba in the same constituency. UML candidate Kamala Sharma, the only woman from the party to win in the last election , is pitted against influential NC leader Purna Bahadur Khadka.

The fate of the 54 other female contestants, whose parties do not have a stronghold in the constituencies they are contesting from, is not better either as some of them are fighting against some top national leaders.

For instance, Maoist candidate Renu Dahal and UML candidate Vidya Neupane are up against NC leader Prakash Man Singh in Kathmandu-1. Singh was the winner in the same constituency in the last CA election . Similarly, in Kathmandu 2, NC candidate Pratima Gautam is up against two equally strong rivals, Maoist leader Lilamani Pokharel and UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal.

Sociologist Mukta S Lama says this tendency of party (male) stalwarts to contest from constituencies where they have higher chances of winning emanates from the fact that they are insecure. “Unfortunately, the victims of this feeling of insecurity among party leaders are women,” he says.

Six women, on the other hand, are certain to lose, as they are contesting against six other women in six constituencies. For instance, Maoist candidate Onsari Gharti and NC's Bhim Kumari Budha are contesting from Rolpa-2. Dang-1 has Maoist candidate Narayani Sharma contesting against NC candidate Parbati DC Chaudhari. In Kathmandu-7, Maoist leader Hisila Yami's poll rival is NC candidate Pramila Singh Dangol.

The low chances of the female candidates winning the election is a double blow to inclusion when the total number of women candidates fielded by the three parties is significantly lower than in the last CA election . While the parties had fielded 96 women in the last CA election s, the number now is only 71. Twenty-seven of the 30 women who won the election in 2008 belonged to the three parties. Lama sees the decreasing number of female candidates and the low chances of them winning as a ‘regressive' move. “Instead of ensuring qualitative representation of women, parties are increasingly getting exclusive. This goes against the values of democracy and republic, which the last CA represented.” Women leaders and candidates agree. “It's not just women that parties are biased against. Dalits, Janajatis and Madhesis have all been under-represented in the FPTP list,” says Maoist candidate Hisila Yami, who won from Kathmandu-7 in 2008.

Despite gloomy forecasts, Yami claims that of the 26 female Maoist candidates, 20 will win. Of the 24 Maoist women who won in 2008, seven are contesting from the same constituencies, excluding Dharmashila Chapagain who won from Jhapa-2 the last time. Nine of these women are now with the CPN-Maoist that is boycotting the upcoming election . Four of the past women winners are candidates under the proportional representation system while one of them is no more.

NC candidate Pushpa Bhusal, who is contesting from Arghakhanchhi-2, the same constituency she won from in the last CA election , is conditionally optimistic about the chances of women emerging victors. “Of course, most women candidates are up against resource-rich party male leaders, but if parties are serious about helping women win, we will.”