The party elite, and Congress itself, think that women cannot be effective political actors.
What constitutes the meaning of politics for women and girls? What are the specific needs and demands of women and girls within the political parties? Are the electoral manifestos and activities of political parties sufficiently addressing those needs? What is the status of women politicians within a political party? And most importantly, have political parties acknowledged the importance of gender sensitivity in politics?
To get authentic answers to these questions, a study was conducted by the Centre for Social Inclusion and Federalism Nepal, specifically aiming to find out the status of women politicians and the perception of young female citizens regarding Nepali Congress. The young females were aged from 15-20 years. The study was conducted in the Morang district in south-eastern Nepal. The researchers interviewed female party members and high school going females of the district. The research subjectivity over objectivity and provided a critical analysis and observation of the lives of women.
Sources of knowledge
All respondents (female party members), despite their position and status within the party, were authentic sources of knowledge. They were very enthusiastic and excited about the interviews as they felt that they were someone who could be informants or sources of knowledge. So it can be said that the ultimate desire of human beings is to achieve self-esteem and public identity, which was noticeable in them at that time.
The research shows that women members have been facing greater inequality and discrimination even within the provision of inclusion in a democratic party. The party’s agenda has never been women-centric. Women’s issues have always been considered as ‘only women’s issues’. The party elite and the party itself consider women as unequal, and they think that women cannot be effective political actors. Women members have felt discriminated in every structure of the party, from both the party elite and the party itself. Even in the distribution of active membership of the party, misogyny manifested itself at all levels.
The respondents mentioned that the party hesitated to give active roles to women. Women party members have lots of grievances against the party because their input and contribution were never fully acknowledged, and that limited them to secondary roles. This statement can be proven by the ratio of mayoral candidacies in the local election. The party gave mayoral candidacies only to men, limiting women to deputy mayoral posts in all local bodies of the district. This shows how male domination is deeply rooted in the mindset of the political elite.
Similarly, this research also provides insights into gender-specific concerns of women politicians and the problems they have been facing in their daily lives. The patriarchal ideology of the family, society and even the party has hugely hindered their meaningful participation. Likewise, gender roles like household chores and child-rearing also created obstacles for them. The restrictions imposed upon their mobility and lack of time due to a disproportionate work burden confined women to the household. Likewise, because of less access and control over economic resources, women lack financial strength which has become the most essential aspect to get involved in politics. But having said that, they want to be liberated from this situation, and they have the aspiration to achieve decision-making power, equal status and public identity.
Not only women members, but the young females of the district were also found to be disappointed with the party. The major concerns of these young females were unemployment, increasing violence against women and girls, and problems due to the patriarchal mindset of society. These concerns were also under-represented; the party doesn’t conduct any activities to interact with the women and address their problems.
Almost 52 percent of the population of Morang is female. Likewise, 49 percent of the voter base is female. Ironically, the concerns of half the citizens remained unaddressed by the political parties from the very beginning. After the introduction of identity politics, the political parties started to address the concerns of women; but they are still treating them more as service seekers and welfare receivers. When it comes to being an effective agent with a specific agenda, women are always given less priority. Likewise, women’s participation is also taken as fulfilling the requirement of the quota system. A democratic political party like the Nepali Congress is also yet to understand the importance of gender mainstreaming within itself.
Why should a political party incorporate gender sensitivity in its structure and activities? The answer is very simple: Women are still facing problems due to their socio-economic and political status which was initially shaped by a patriarchal society. Hence, political participation helps to achieve both individual and collective goals. By providing decision-making power and ensuring the rights of women, political participation creates a foundation to establish women as citizens with equal rights. Similarly, the gap between the needs of voters and the actions of the party may create an ideological distance between it and the electorate. This situation leads to a de-alignment of the electorate from the party, and the party may face electoral instability.
In essence, the patriarchal convictions in Nepali Congress need to be changed to reconstruct an equitable and inclusive power structure within. They have to acknowledge that having equal rights for women doesn’t mean fewer rights for men. To become the real decision-makers and reach the citizens, the party should look at politics as more than a means to gain power. This will, without doubt, lead Nepali Congress to better electoral results.
Author: Prabha Poudyal
This article was first published in The Kathmandu Post on January 7, 2020.