Nepal: Few women elected to parliament under FPTP

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In the recently held parliamentary elections, only six women were elected under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system out of the total 165 seats. This is just 3.64 percent. Although the constitution states that women should comprise at least one third of the total members of parliament, there is no rule as to how many women candidates should be fielded under the FPTP system. Which is why there were just 146 women candidates for parliament under FPTP system out of the total 1945.
 
In the general elections of 1991 and 1994, only 3.41 percent of the elected members of parliament were women. This figure increased slightly to 5.73 percent in the parliamentary elections in 1999.
 
In the first constituent assembly elections in 2008, thirty women or 12.5 percent were elected under FPTP out of the 240 FPTP seats.
 
But in the second constituent assembly elections held in 2013, just 11 women or 4.58 percent were elected under FPTP out of the 240 FPTP seats.
 
But under the new constitution, the political parties are under the compulsion to ensure 33 percent representation of women in parliament by electing women.
 
South Asia Check met three of the six women elected to FPTP seats and asked them about their electoral experience, the agendas they plan to advance in parliament, poor representation of women in parliament and the steps that need to be taken to increase their representation. Excerpt:
 
How was your experience as a candidate?
 
Kamala Roka: There were some internal challenges. We had called for fielding women with long political experiences as FPTP candidates and women with lesser chances of winning under FPTP system as proportional representation (PR) candidates. But for this, the male mentality in the party that women can’t be trusted posed as a challenge. In the first phase of the parliamentary elections conducted in 32 districts, I was the lone candidate from the left alliance. But outside the party there was no such challenge.
 
Padma Aryal: It was not smooth sailing. Money and muscle dominated the electoral scene.
 
Durga Paudel: The electoral fight was difficult. First of all it was difficult to get party ticket. Even after getting an FPTP ticket, overcoming the gender-based stereotypical views in society was another challenge for a female candidate. A woman needs to prove that she is capable enough. And you need a lot of energy.
 
But I found that the voters rightly judge your contributions. And they don’t discriminate against a candidate based on gender.
 
Also, the excessive use of money makes things difficult especially for a candidate from the middle class and even more difficult for a woman. Although the law has granted equal property rights to women, very few women have enjoyed that right, so they are economically dependent on their families. And by chance if a woman gets ticket, she will find it very difficult to fight elections under FPTP due to financial constraints.
 
As a woman candidate, was it difficult or easy to fight elections?
 
Durga Paudel: There was a challenge. In the campaign trail, my male opponents unleashed a false propaganda against me that a woman even if elected can’t do much. I had to work really hard to counter the lies and falsehoods spread by my opponents. But the voters were aware of my contributions and political background and elected me. I had not seen such a costly election campaign. I had contested the elections also in 1999 from Kapilvastu, but that election was relatively less expensive.
 
Padma Aryal: Because I am a woman, my competitors didn’t consider me as a serious candidate. They tried to humiliate me. In the campaign trail, my opponents portrayed themselves as future prime ministers and myself as a loser. Their undignified conduct made many women voters angry. But I found that voters don’t discriminate against candidates on the basis of gender.
 
Kamala Roka: Fighting elections was not difficult for me because of my identity as a fighter in the 10-year-long insurgency and my political activeness.
 
How do you move your own agenda forward after becoming an MP?
 
Kamala Roka: Rukum (East) is now a new district. Economic growth and infrastructure development in my constituency will be my priority. I will work in coordination with both the local and provincial levels to develop Rukum. I will make policy interventions to secure the rights of marginalized group.
 
Padma Aryal:  As lawmakers our role is to make law. First of all, we will focus on necessary policy changes on pressing national issues. Next, I will work for my constituency. After that I will work for the rights of marginalized communities and backward classes.
 
Durga Paudel: Moving forward with my party’s agenda will be the main focus. I will work to promote women’s rights. We also feel the need to have a family court in Nepal. I will also work to raise the quota for women under the first-past-the-post election system so that in certain constituencies all candidates in the fray are women.
 
We introduced reservation for women in the elections to increase their representation in governance. But the recent election results have shown that women need to continue the fight for affirmative action.
 
Another issue is violence against women. The legal process is cumbersome so many women give up in the process. So we need to set up family courts for women. Women should be provided legal service free of cost or at minimal charge.
 
We will work to institutionalize the republic and secularism.
 
Are women lawmakers heard in parliament?
 
Kamala Roka: Yes we have difficulty in making our voice heard. But if women become united in their demands, there will not be such problem. We actively participated in formulating the local government operation act. As a result, we were able to ensure 33 percent reservation for women also at the local level. Since we were united we were able to effect change in favour of women.
 
Padma Aryal: Yes there is a problem so I feel women lawmakers from all parties need to unite on women’s agendas. We don’t have such unity in our parliament. If we work unitedly, we can achieve much. The constitutional requirement ensuring 33 percent representation of women in federal parliament is the result of our struggle.
 
Durga Paudel: It’s difficult to put across our views and demands in parliament. When we raised the issue of women’s rights to ancestral property, there was a lot of debate in parliament. We had to push our agenda fiercely. Male chauvinism is deeply rooted in Nepali society and parliament as well. Even women are divided in parliament. So we had to fight hard to push our agenda.
 
Why do you think only a few women were elected to parliament under the FPTP system?
 
Kamala Roka: Men make all the policies. KP Oli, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Sher Bahadur Deuba are all men. So these leaders think that they can field fewer women under the FPTP system and still fulfill the constitutional requirement by electing women under the PR system. In order to change this, women should be making policies and heading parties.
 
Also, women do not dare to fight elections because they cannot arrange the money and muscle needed to win. As a result, parties field women from weaker constituencies.
 
Padma Aryal: There are three main reasons behind fewer women getting elected under the FPTP system.
 
The first reason is the provision of reservation in the constitution. As a result women choose the easier way to get to parliament.
 
The second reason is that men discourage women from fighting direct elections arguing that women can be elected under the PR system.
 
The third reason is that in the election all four strategies –Saam (convincing by argument), daam (bribes or other monetary rewards), danda (punishment), bhed (attempt to sow division) is employed in order to win the election. It seems that women are not yet mentally prepared and capable to employ such tactics.
 
Durga Paudel:  Since we live in a male-dominated society, we have to think twice before fighting elections. Also, fewer women join politics.
 
What should be done to elect more women to parliament under FPTP?
 
Kamala Roka: Elections are getting very expensive and money and muscle play important role. I think the FPTP system should be scrapped and the entire parliament should be elected through PR system. But this needs amending the constitution, which is not possible without securing the support of two-thirds majority. But I think women should be allocated some seats under the FPTP system also.
 
Padma Aryal: I think certain percent of FPTP seats should be allocated to women.
 
Durga Paudel: Women should be allocated FPTP seats also until they develop the confidence to fight elections. We don’t need reservations once we are capable enough to fight elections. Now the situation is such that women get elected to parliament only because of the reservation. In party strongholds it does not matter whether the candidate is a man or a woman, but the parties have been sending women to weaker constituencies and this is unfortunate. To tackle this problem, women should be allocated FPTP seats also. And reforms are needed to make the elections affordable.
 
Is there any difference in the way how men and women deal with the responsibilities and agendas?
 
Kamala Roka: Men in leadership may not be as sensitive as women are about women’s issues. I have already mentioned how we fought to ensure reservation for women at the local level.  There was another debate in parliament over whether men and women should have equal right to ancestral property or a will system should be introduced. Male MPs favored will system. But we opposed the will system and blocked the bill. This shows women parliamentarians can make a difference.
 
Durga Paudel: I think women are more serious about carrying out their responsibilities. Women’s priorities are different. Naturally women are more concerned about women’s rights than men. But there are some leaders who raise women’s issues and play proactive role in protecting women’s rights. Mohan Bikram Singh is one such leader who is in favor of women’s empowerment.  Women’s movement would have become weak if there was no support from men. So both the genders need to work together to empower women.
 
Padma Aryal: You know the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. So it is natural that women understand women better and raise their issues more effectively.
 
When will a woman become prime minister?
 
Kamala Roka:  We need to amend the constitution first to pave the way for a woman to become prime minister. Because of the constitutional provision, we now have a woman president and a woman speaker.
 
Durga Paudel:  Things have improved a lot for women. We have a woman president and woman speaker but we still don’t have a woman prime minister. It is argued that women are capable but lack self-confidence. This is not true. We need change in attitude.
 
Padma Aryal: A lot has changed but male chauvinism still holds sway in our society. This mentality needs to change. If there is policy change then it will be easier for women become prime minister.