Time for federal government to champion women’s cause
Jivesh Jha and Nivedita Lamba
The world has witnessed a tremendous change in the traditional concept of society, culture and rights. Change is incremental, and while a lot is to be expected when it comes to securing the rights of Nepali women, considerable progress has been made.
Globally women have become more concerned about their rights and they have stood against all forms of discriminations and violence perpetuated on them. United Nations treaty that is critical in accessing the progress of the government in eliminating discrimination is the ‘Convention for Elimination of All forms Discriminations against Women’ (CEDAW) which was adopted in 1979 and it later became an international bill of rights for women on September 3, 1981 on ratification by 189 states. Ratified by Nepal in 1991, this treaty is regarded as a powerful international convention to ensure gender equality and mitigate violence against women.
Acknowledging CEDAW, the drafters of 2015 Constitution of Nepal have floated ample provisions to ensure the protection of women’s rights in broad and universal principles of equality and participation. The preamble of the Constitution takes pledge to end all forms of discriminations lying along the gender basis. In the similar vein, the equality clauses and affirmative action clauses of the Constitution seeks to ensure adequate representation of women in public life. To be specific, Article 38 provisions that all the rights relating to women shall be the fundamental rights. Moreover, Nepal sets aside 33 percent of parliamentary seats for women [Article 84-8], which is a major breakthrough.
(For a detailed report on constitutional arrangement for women in Nepali Constitution, see our reporting on http://english.lokaantar.com/articles/nepals-constitution-incorporates-fair-provisions-women/)
“This Constitutional provision would certainly increase the participation of women in politics and public life, which may just be a single step, but it is nevertheless a step ahead in the right direction. Now what remains to be seen is whether these laws are put into practice in letter and spirit,” says the much-admired commentator of Constitutional Law in India Dr Mamta Rao, who is well-known for popular book Law Relating to Women and Children.
Importantly, “Women in public life (academics, government as well as private offices, parliament and so on), are a lot more present and visible than they ever were earlier and it has helped shape the movement regarding pro-women laws that have been adopted at domestic as well as international stages,” adds Dr Rao, who heads the Department of Law and Justice at RD University, Jabalpur, India.
But does simply enacting laws on paper tackle with all problems currently faced by Nepali women? What about implementation?
“At least now we have something to enforce,” says Dr Nidhi Saxena, faculty member of International Law at Sikkim Central University, Gangtok, India. The Constitutional provisions ensuring one-third representation of women in parliament is a new dawn for women. It’s a victory of equality over disparity,” argues she.
“This enhanced role of women parliamentarians would certainly play a significant role in proposing gender sensitive laws and reviewing and amending discriminatory laws and practices. This is an important development especially when compared to India’s frequent failure to ensure one-third representation of women in legislature,” further says Dr Saxena.
Showing satisfaction with the Constitution, she adds, “Lawmaking is very a crucial step and very imperative aspect when working towards the betterment of women.”
Still, “affirmative actions are not the end for the problem. It is a process through which we are trying to achieve a goal. Therefore, while it is an appreciable move to ensure women’s representation, it is also important to keep in mind that it should not become means of propaganda to ensure that women are confined to what they are “given” by the system which is dominantly patriarchal. Also who gets the opportunity is the larger question?,” argues Kalpana Jha, a researcher at Martin Chautari, a Kathmandu based think tank and research agency.
She further says, “Meritocracy also should be respected within the reservation system since it’s crucial or this arrangement will never pay off. Currently what we see is meritocracy totally overpowered by nepotism.”
Despite this, “I have felt that the very primary right which is the right to citizenship is not in favour of women which is likely to have very negative repercussions in the long run,” opines Jha. Also, “the property rights related clauses I feel are ambiguous and they are highly likely to be manipulated by the men as they already are in control of property rights,” maintains Jha who is well-known for her work The Madhesi Upsurge and the Contested Ideas of Nepal.
Moreover, “What makes this worse is society’s attitude towards women in distress—their plight is still largely ignored and hidden under either a shroud of shame or within the four walls. Worse still is the behaviour of those male members of families who treat women like an object or commodity to be exploited,” further adds Dr Rao.
Dr Rao has a suggestion for the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. “The newly installed provincial governments should play a constructive role to put an end to gender-based violence as it keeps women in subordinate roles, resulting in low level of participation in politics and a lower standard of education, skills and available opportunities.” For instance, the state governments can play a pivotal role in penalising the families asking for dowry. In southern plains of Nepal, especially in Province-2, dowry has turned into the shape of bribe paid to husband’s family to keep the bride’s body and soul together.
The provincial government should come up with a law that demands an affidavit—no dowry has been exchanged between the parties for entering into conjugal life— for the registration of marriage.
“Change does not come over a night. Still, a law is a first step; a legislative commitment supported by elected representatives, who are pledged to drive the women’s cause, signals that the path ahead would be a different one,” adds Saxena.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Press for Progress” but the progress for women in Nepali society is still a far cry. Although this battle is old wherein women are seen fighting against patriarchal mindset, the war is yet to be won. Social progress is ensured only when there’s availability of equal rights and opportunities for one and all the world across.
It’s accepted on all hands that there is “a bit of her” in everyone—be it father, mother, and brother. “You never just humiliate a woman by not ensuring their rights, you humiliated everyone else too,” the women activists rightly say.
The writers are students of LL.M (Constitutional Law) at Uttaranchal University, Dehradun.
Published on March 9, 2018