This year, the women of Doti were not going to accept the vice chairperson’s position. With a unanimous voice, they look forward to the local level election where the women were going to contest for the chairperson’s position in their gau palikas and nagar palikas.
I was in Silgadhi Muncipality in Doti. It was mid February. Our conversation and the sunny day kept me warm. The women surrounding me were executive members of their wadas and palikas. Even though all represented the same political party, they came from different communities: Brahmin, Newar and Dalit. We shared tea and snacks and talked for almost an hour before their mobile phones started buzzing and they had to leave for another meeting.
Federal Nepal is going to have its second local level election in a few months. We each have an opinion regarding the federal system and its pros and cons in a small country like Nepal. Despite that, it is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming to hear the stories of these women on their journeys to become politically active citizens in their constituencies.
Their journeys began with not being able to hold a mic properly and not being able to speak or introduce themselves in front of an audience, even if it was only a few people. Now they confidently give speeches, conduct rallies, and debate with their chairpersons to ensure they get budgets for their issues and programs. It is inspirational to witness.
Many who live in the cities assume that women in rural areas experience quite difficult lives, with no agency and voice. We tend to think rural women have yet to enjoy their rights. While there is some truth in this view, it is not the whole truth. In a country like ours, women irrespective of their background, location and status do suffer different kinds of discrimination and disparity. However, while urban women might have easier access to infrastructure and technology, in many cases rural women are more aware of social issues and are politically active.
They are members of different committees. They are user group members of community forest, drinking water and renewable energy. They are social workers raising awareness of various issues and are health campaigners with political aspirations. With a mandate of 33% of women in all committees and groups and enforced women representation in local and province level government agencies, we can witness women from different castes, religions and ethnicities participating in the meetings.
Whether their participation in these groups and offices is meaningful or not is another day’s topic of discussion. Let’s just say that being able to take up vital positions in these committees and offices and influence in decision making is the next battle to win. Issues of women with disabilities, extreme marginalised communities and trans women need to be explored in many areas. Training elected women to be more skilled in making decisions, assisting them to become better planners, and helping women to get rid of their own patriarchal beliefs are all in need of attention.
That shall happen too. That day I went back to my hotel room with hope in my heart. The day’s meeting was one when I didn’t feel sad about my country’s status. I was optimistic that day.
The new generation growing up in districts like Doti is seeing their mothers and aunts participating in election and interested in contesting for political positions. They are no longer happy to be considered second best. Young women are not looking to simply be someone’s wife and a mother but to be a mayor and a chairperson of their palikas.
The evidence? I was in one of the few municipalities in Nepal where they had elected a woman mayor in its first election!