April Analysis: Human Rights, Gender and Social Inclusion

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The electoral alliance has also become the subject matter of controversy as alliance politics could potentially cut down the women’s representation at the local level. Concerned with this issue, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court (SC), demanding proportional representation of women in the upcoming local level election. The SC refrained from issuing an interim order. To add to this, the nomination of Keshav Sthapit, for the mayor of Kathmandu metropolitan city, who has been previously accused of sexual harassment has infuriated the public, raising questions on ethics and morality.

Timeline of Major Events

DateEvent
4 April 2022Alliance politics may trim women’s representation in local governments.
5 April 2022The President issued five ordinances.  
13 April 2022The Election Commission of Nepal issued a 17- point directive to make the election management gender-friendly and inclusive.
18 April 2022Dalits demand respectable, proportional representation in upcoming elections.
21 April 2022NHRC calls for ensuring proportional representation of women in local election.
24 April 2022Mayoral Candidate Accused of Sexual Misconduct.
25 April 2022Advocate Mohna Ansari filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court demanding proportional representation of women in the local level election.
28 April 2022Supreme Court refrained from issuing an interim order to in response to the petition by Advocate Mohna Ansari.

Alliance Politics and Principle of Proportional Inclusion

The local level election poll is scheduled to be held on May 13, 2022, in a single phase throughout the country. The political parties especially in the ruling coalition, are contesting the local elections under an electoral alliance.

Lately the electoral alliance has become the subject matter of controversy as alliance politics may cut down the women’s representation at the local level. When contesting elections under an alliance, each political party fields a candidate for just one of the two positions. Since it is an electoral alliance between two political parties, the respective parties agree to allocate the position for mayor and deputy mayor. Past events have indicated that political parties have no position to offer to women aspirants when an electoral alliance is formed. Consequently, women leaders miss the opportunity to represent themselves in the executive position. Such practice, arguably, contradicts the principle of inclusiveness, one of the cardinal principles of the Constitution of Nepal 2015.

Section 17 (4) of the Local Level Election Act, 2017, requires one of the two candidates for chief or deputy chief at the local level to be a woman. Thus, it is mandatory that each political party’s chief and deputy chief nominations for local units to be gender-balanced. However, the provision is not applicable if the party fields a candidates for just one of two positions. This provision has provided a leeway to political parties not to abide by proportional inclusive provisions. Accordingly, the parties are not obliged to nominate male-female alternate seat provisions in the highest positions of Chief and Deputy Chief, Mayor and Deputy Mayor where two of one must be female.

Call for Ensuring Proportional Representation of Women in Local Election

Photo: RSS

The current trends indicate that alliance politics may fail to ensure the representation of women and marginalized groups which could in turn reduced representation of women at the local level. Women leaders have urged both Prime Minister and Chief Election Commissioner to ensure that the parties contesting upcoming local elections as an alliance field women candidates in one of the two top positions.

NHRC has urged the bodies concerned to amend acts and rules that contradict the proportional inclusive provisions of the Constitution. Whether this recommendation is acted upon or not remains to be seen owing to the fact that 25 April 2022 is the last day to file nomination for the May 13 local level election. In this background it is pertinent to note that an analysis of this issue may have been forecasted by NHRC. On 23 February, NHRC issued a press note stating that it will observe the local level election which may include activities like, legislative review, registration of candidates, women’s participation in elections, participation of persons from minority communities etc.

The Election Commission of Nepal issued a 17- point directive dated 30 March, 2022, to the political parties, directing to field a woman if they contest in only one position. However, later on 20 April, after allegedly receiving pressure from the political parties, the commission revised clause 6 of the directive which now states; the parties “should give priority” to women while nominating candidates for the positions. The revised statement has been criticised by the Women leaders from various parties. Even though there have been instances where the constitutional bodies have urged or directed the political parties to respect the principle of inclusion, by far we cannot see strict adherence to it.

Advocate Mohna Ansari on 19 April filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court demanding proportional representation of women right from the nominations process. The court on 25 April, 2022, was to decide whether or not to issue an interim order in response to the petition. On 27 March 2022, the court refrained from issuing an interim although it has issued a show cause notice against the government and the commission. The hearing was delayed by two days and by the time the hearing took place the candidacy filing process had already completed.

Critics claim that the concerned authority took little initiative to ensure to women at least one of the two positions despite the issue being raised weeks before the start of nomination process. However, in all the aforementioned instances it is noteworthy that the issue was dealt with at the last minute: be it filing of writ petition, the decisions of judiciary or the directive of election commission.

The constitutional obligation of favourable reservation is a policy tool that has increased women’s representation in politics particularly from marginalized groups. Notably, the road to substantial involvement in leadership and decision-making roles for women is fraught with difficulties. Woman are not given opportunity to compete for higher posts and are forced to settle for minor posts in the elections. Chances of a woman winning in top executive positions are also thin because major parties have fielded only male candidates.

Increase in descriptive representation of minorities in the state apparatus may impact the level of substantive representation. However, this does not necessarily guarantee that their interests are protected. Though affirmative measures are used for addressing the representation gap, measures such as the quota system may continue to remain controversial. Quota may not have any meaningful effect on women or minorities to attain consequential leadership positions. The substantive representation of women requires not only the presence of woman representatives but requires commitment and action to uphold their position which the current system lacks. For instance, giving someone their rights is not enough; they also need a positive environment where they can assert their rights and generate results.

Mayoral Candidate Accused of Sexual Misconduct

When UML nominated Keshav Sthapit for the positions of mayor of Kathmandu for the upcoming local elections, public were infuriated that someone who has been accused of sexual harassment has been given a ticket to contest the polls. In this background it is pertinent to note that Sthapit was accused of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement in Nepal in the year 2018. While denying the allegations levelled against him, he has claimed this to be a “rape of men’s rights”.

It is unethical for a candidate accused of sexual harassment to be holder of a public office as his/her characteristic impacts voter choice, scandals are found to negatively impact a political campaign. Citizens are less likely to support a candidate accused of sexual harassment. An alternate view point is that, the candidates in response to the accusations, have accused women for making up the false narrative to undermine his credibility especially at the time of election. Nonetheless, the claims continue to spark frequent media debate over his moral integrity. In sexual offence cases comprising trial by media, the presumption of innocence is in favour of the woman while in fact and in law every person should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. But at the same time it pertinent to question as to why no formal complaint was registered and an investigation was launched against the candidate to prove or disprove such allegation.

Critics claim political affiliation may fetch the accused apparent impunity. Thus, a pervasive culture of impunity and accountability for abuses remain a serious concern in Nepal. Additionally, the distance between power held by men and by women has directly resulted in cycles of harassment, misconduct, and abuse. Consequently, the public are more sympathetic towards women. While it is important to protect the victim, it is also equally necessary that it should not be used as an agenda. 

The President issued five ordinances

On April 5 2022, President Bidya Devi Bhandari on recommendation of the Council of Ministers, has yet gain promulgated the ordinances to tackle punishment for rape and acid attack. The ordinance to deter acid attack was first authenticated in September 2020 and increment of jail-term for the offence of rape was authenticated in November 2020. Despite the effort, the ordinances has been lingering in the parliament since 2 years.

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