There is no doubt that the recently concluded local election was a huge disappointment from the perspective of women’s rise to political leadership. Many pieces have been written about the lingering frustration in relation to the missed opportunity to elevate women to the top of local governance. Yet, now, the most important thing to talk is about possible solutions and possible ways to change the status quo. We need a strategy and a road map. We also need unprecedented levels of collaboration across society.
What is essential is to keep the discussion about this vital issue on while also analyzing data and brainstorming for new actions and ideas.
It will take a combination of grassroots activism and savvy research and tailored made strategies to lay the conditions for a complete turnaround that would project women on the top of politics, locally and eventually, nationally. We might ultimately need better laws to have more women leading the nation, and more strict regulations that would prevent political parties to find loopholes as happened over the past elections when two parties running in a coalition for the position of Mayor and Deputy Mayor, strangely, could do away without fielding a woman.
Yet what counts is a sustained “game”, a continued effort not from now up to the upcoming general elections in November but well beyond that.
The Centre for Gender And Politics (CGAP), set up in India a few years ago, and now actively expanding to Nepal, is trying to lay the foundations for such a long-term quest. Recently, CGAP published a report ‘Gender Analysis of Nepal’s Local Elections, May 2022’, a document that offers not only a detailed analysis of what happened during the elections from a woman’s perspective but also some ideas on how to change the current situation.
Women in secondary roles
According to the report, all major political parties have fielded about 40 percent of women as candidates.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them were posted for secondary leadership roles, either Deputy Mayor or Vice-Chairperson. All in all, the report explains there were close to 60,000 women contestants in this local election but most of them “were fielded for ward-member positions reserved for women and Dalit women”. We have enough information to explicitly affirm that chances given to women in the last elections were tokenistic.
CGAP explains that there are two major “narratives” that sustain such a sorrowful state of the affairs. The first is about the women’s lack of capacity and the second is the notion that there are not enough women who commit to taking on leadership roles. That offers incredible space for action for organizations like CGAP and like-minded organizations.
We need to work on leadership skills but we also need platforms where women, especially adolescents and young women, can start discussing policy making and the nitty-gritty of what it takes to solve intricate problems.
Around the world, there are examples where women have an opportunity to build their competencies and assets to make a difference in politics. Adapting such examples to local contexts could be one of the best investments to change the political landscape.
It is not that all young women should run for office though it would be great if many more of them decide to do so but at least, all young women should turn themselves into activists and problem solvers.
We need more round tables, even informal talks about issues, strategies, and importantly, tactics to make civic life and politics a more engaging and interesting proposition for young women. In short, we need to bring politics, not the parties’ infighting and vested interests, closer to the youth.
Change is possible
In the past, under the banners of The Good Leadership, a collaboration with Together for Nepal and ENGAGE, we launched a program called Read, Learn, Share, where youth participants were driving the discussions on different topics of public interest. We need to create more similar spaces to fill the gap between public policies and youth because ultimately if we want more women in politics, we need more of them to become curious, knowledgeable and interested in day-to-day issues, those issues that affect our lives. Read, Learn, Share was just a small pilot on how it is possible to engage youths but much more could be done.
The two persons behind CGAP in Nepal, Prasiddhi Shrestha and Kritika Giri, have clear ideas of the problems and what needs to be done.
Prasiddhi recently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris while Kritika just completed her high school from St Xavier College. The fact that they are leading CGAP without external support, all voluntarily, shows great levels of commitment to the cause and this is impressive itself.
There are examples where women have an opportunity to build their competencies and assets to make a difference in politics. Adapting such examples to local contexts could be one of the best investments to change the political landscape in Nepal.
Kritika shares “There exists huge opportunities to bring more women into leadership positions as two cycles of local elections have seen women coming into politics. All stakeholders must work together to encourage women to take up higher decision-making roles”. Yes, we need more stakeholders to work together even informally. Oftentimes partnerships and collaborations are too hard to create.
This situation is such that only by coming together major issues can be tackled and solved.
Prasiddhi adds: “Women’s political empowerment is not just something for women to work on, it is something an entire society should strive for.” Moreover, she explains, “in this election we barely saw prominent male political leaders speak in support of women’s leadership. This needs to change”.
Political empowerment is a process and a goal itself and the journey towards it cannot be postponed indefinitely and all the youth of the nation must be involved. As we know from this election, a tectonic shift occurred with the emergence of young and independent candidates.
Now we need to push further and I am sure that many young males might be brought in this long quest for political equality in the nation. Data, leadership, competencies, strategies and allies should be the keywords of a future roadmap towards political equality.
An organization like CGAP can show the way, piloting, on its own, new ideas in the field of research but also in building the foundational competencies while forging new collaborations and, together, building the right toolkits for young women to step into the arena.
At the same time, in one way or another, male politicians in dominant positions should face the reality that women in Nepal have no equal opportunities to contest the elections as a result of which their political empowerment has not yet become a reality.
Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE. The opinions expressed are personal.