Women and rightist revival

March 6, 2017 10:09 AM Hisila Yami

By calling on women to participate in local election, anti-inclusive and anti-federal forces are laying a trap

Curiously, a right-wing wave that is sweeping the world is also producing many right-wing women leaders. Be it Theresa May, the leader of the Conservative Party and current Prime minister of Great Britain, or Marine Le Pen of France who is now contesting the presidential election in France.

Angela Merkel is already two-time chancellor of Germany and is now contesting for a third term. She is also a leader of a conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union. As if Merkel was not rightist enough, yet another German woman, Frauke Petry, leader of Alternative for Germany, is contesting upcoming election on anti-immigration platform so as to counter Merkel who has liberal views on immigration. Then there are Siv Jensen of Norway and Pia Kjaersgaard of Denmark who are also entering politics on rightist agendas. 

The common feature of all these women is their anti-immigration platform based on whipping up fear. Generally, rightist political parties hardly give space to women’s individual empowerment. However, when it comes to cultural nationalism and family values, rightists prevail. Today they are asserting their own white supremacist culture to counter the Muslim hijab culture. Compare this to the situation in Nepal. Nepal has concrete evidence of women empowerment. Of the five most powerful positions of the state—President, Vice-president, Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Speaker—three are occupied by women. Today, 29 percent MPs are women and women make up 35.64 percent of government bureaucracy. 

If election is to take place under the controversial proposal of the local body restructuring commission, there will be more than 1,300 women candidates contesting local election. One of chairperson or vice-chairperson of each village council or city council will be a woman. 

However, despite these achievements, there has been an increase in violence on Nepali women. Female feticide is rampant. Many girls continue to be married young. Others are trafficked or leaving Nepal for risky jobs abroad. Domestic violence is increasing. Suicides among women are up and so is the rate of divorce. Rape and torture of women accused of witchcraft are also common. All these cannot be attributed solely to male violence. They are also product of the prolonged political transition, the 2015 earthquakes and the border blockade, all of which disproportionately affected women. 

The Westminster system of government we have embraced contributes to instability. Between 2008 and 2017, there have been nine government changes. This in turn has had a devastating impact on our public institutions and on our industries, generating deep sense of insecurity within our families and communities and increasing the marginalization of women in this feudal, patriarchal society. It is in this context that we must explore executive presidential form of government.

Nepal is multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic country and it is vital that inclusion of oppressed ethnic communities and regions be achieved while also maintaining gender balance. For this our legislative body must be elected on a full proportional basis in order to reflect this great diversity.

The new delineation of local units, be they village councils or city councils, are based on old district maps, which divide the country rather than unite it. Take the case of the traditionally marginalized Chepang community who are now divided among Makwanpur, Chitwan, Gorkha and Dhading districts. Genuine state restructuring would have clumped them together so that they can be represented through first-past-the-post system from a constituency where they hold a majority. 

I remember an American anthropologist telling me how gender issues were used to divide the black civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s. When it came to giving rights the status quoist forces preferred to give rights to black women in the name of ‘gender-positive discrimination’ than to the blacks ‘black-positive discrimination’. This is because they feared black men more than black women.  

Today, I am afraid, the same phenomena is being seen in Nepal: the status quoists are luring women to come and participate in local elections because there are many women’s seats. This may sound gender-friendly but this policy is not necessarily inclusive, in true sense of the term. This is being done at the cost of oppressed ethnicities and regions. By calling upon women who do not have their own geography to participate in local election, anti-federal and anti-inclusive forces are laying a trap.

What is interesting is that in Nepal it is not the conservative parties but the so-called communist parties that are carrying the rightist flag and sidelining the inclusion agenda. Those campaigning for meaningful federalism are being labeled as foreign-inspired in order to divert attention from the real issue. 

The author is head of international relations department, Naya Shakti hisila.post@gmail.com

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