Despite comprising more than 52% of the country’s population, women continue to lack
access to political leadership opportunities and resources at all levels of government. And this is what Prakriti Bhattarai Basnet, 23, a young activist is advocating for. “When women from my generation avoid talking about politics, it pinches me,” says Prakriti. She is the founding Chairperson for ‘Political Literacy For Women’ which she started two years back. PLFW teaches young girls and professional women about politics.
So far the institution has trained 600 young girls amongst whom 40 went into college level
politics or chose to join a political party. “Some of them are also willing to run for the local elections,” says an excited Prakriti who has been very active in increasing the political space for women in Nepal. To move he agenda, she used to conduct #2030 discussion programs covering socio-political issues in collaboration with a leading media house besides writing for Shilapatra.
Born and raised in the capital, this young activist has etched both her parents surname into her name. When asked the reason, she says, “I started writing both my parents surname in grade nine when I realised that it was my mother who used to take care of my everyday needs and school life, whereas my father was busy with his work. Still we were expected to write our fathers name as guardian. To challenge the norms, I included my mother and father’s name with mine because my identity comes from both of them”.
Over the years, Prakriti has been doing protests all across Nepal. The movement “Ajhai Kati Sahane” took place in 40 districts at the same time and had huge impact.
Although Prakriti says she doesn’t have any political ambitions yet, she is not averse to the possibilities in the future. “I always believe that it’s the public that makes a politician. In the current time, I want more young girls to get into politics. I see myself as an accelerator driving women into the political system,” she states.
In conversation with WOW’s Ankita Jain, Prakriti talks about what it means to be a young change maker.
Tell us about your growing years…
I have always been a topper in academics, always the first bencher who could cry even when she scored 99. I aspired to become an engineer or a doctor. I was an active kid who used to participate in everything possible, and I was a good dancer. So I contemplated this as a career option as well. I never thought I would be at the forefront of leading protests on the streets.
I come from a middle class family and my parents are not highly educated but they always lay emphasis – as their only child – on a good education. During those years, the concept of tuitions and coaching was pretty new and highly expensive so to cover that, my mother influenced me to study with the neighborhood college students who were then preparing for government jobs. Over the years, they became my mentors. They used to talk politics and I was thus introduced to terms like capitalism, socialism, etc.
When I enrolled into high school at St Xavier’s, I realised that none of my female friends were interested in politics. The subject was reserved for men largely and women hardly bothered with it. Highly interested in politics, I did my Bachelors degree in Social Work despite being a Science student.
What prompted your career choice?
I had the chance to meet some of the most talented women during my Bachelors but what shocked me was that none of them were interested in politics. Digging in, I found out that women are never part of the living room political conversation at most homes. They were always kept away from such talks and over the years women started thinking that politics has nothing to do with them. This really hit me hard. I also did my research paper on political socialisation. I talked to girls from all across Nepal and found out that there are really no agents of political socialisation in Nepal for young girls. There are mostly two places where people discuss in depth about the political state of the country: tea stalls and the living room. Girls are not involved in living room discussions and we really do not have that freedom to roam around tea stalls whenever we want. This made me think that we really need a platform where young girls can talk about politics and then the concept of political literacy for women struck me.
For the next one year, I started studying, volunteering and interning with different political parties to understand how things work. I also did door-to-door campaign in ward 4 as part of my research. Ward 4 has the most educated people and surprisingly I found out that most of the women in that ward didn’t have voting cards and the ones who had, their vote was based on who their husband or the man of the house would vote for. This campaign solidified the need for a platform for women to talk about politics. I also interned with Gagan Thapa. The internship was fruitful as I learnt how one of the best parliamentarians work. I witnessed the amount of preparation that goes into making a speech.
Still I lacked confidence to lead a platform like Political Literacy for Women because in our society when a young girl talks about politics, her views are often not taken seriously. Contemplating about the way forward, I applied for a course in Harvard. Based on my concept of PLW, they offered me a scholarship and I completed Leadership, Organising and Action from Harvard. I thought if the best university of the world thinks my concept is worthy, then why am I in doubt.
I started Political Literacy for Women through Facebook. I designed a course and asked the intellectuals to take the classes. When I opened the course for everyone, there were 700 young girls who applied for it. This shocked me. It wasn’t that girls don’t want to talk about politics or be a part of it but they are not given that agent to drive them.
Whenever we announce a new batch, there are thousands of young girls applying to the course. But we don’t have resources to cater to all of them and hence forcefully need to select 50 out of them. At times I wonder what if we could teach thousands of girls at a time, it would have been so impactful. And that is my incapability not being able to do so.
Were there any significant barriers in growing your career?
The major challenge is that we have not been able to generate much resource. We can sign up with INGOs and embassies but the problem that arises is that these organisations do not allow you to go to the streets and protest. And the lifeline of Political Literacy for Women lies in those protests. Currently, we are running on public funding and we collaborate with different foundations and tap into their CSR.
Further, the lockdown has tied us to digital classes and virtual protests but we are looking forward to conduct these physically. However, even the online classes have been really helpful because we can teach girls from all across the country. This way they can interact with each other and know the geo political scenario of Nepal.
Though women are making a mark in all spheres, their ratio in politics is unfortunately rather low. Your comments.
When we study the feminist moment of Nepal, what we can see is the generation who are inside parliament right now, they all came from the streets. All were leading feminist movements and this is how they became politicians. I am so thankful to them that they brought the concept of 33% women in parliament in Nepal. Similarly, many of the people aren’t aware that this 33% reservation for women also applies to every political party at all levels. When we examine the main board of a political party or the central committee members, one can hardly notice women there. The political parties themselves are unconstitutional and no one talks about it. We are further in the process of filing a case against them in the Supreme Court.
When you talk about the manifestos of different political parties, inclusion is never there and this is problematic. The 33% representation is the right thing but our generation has not been able to nurture young women to aspire to become politicians. This is also because when you witness a male politician, he is usually surrounded by 10-15 aspiring men and those men are constantly groomed by that politician but in case of female politicians, there are hardly any women around.
In Nepal, when we talk about issues related to women, it only revolves around maternity, reproductive health or violence, it is always related to our sexuality but even electricity, water or border issues are related to women. When the Prime Minister did a un-constitutional move, I saw no woman protesting. This sums up that whenever there are bigger issues in the country, only men talk about it.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
I am very good at handling my work but when it comes to my personal life, I am at my worst. Maybe this act of balancing will come later in life when I have personal responsibilities.
Do you experience any gender barriers or resistance in the things you do?
When I talk about religion or national interest issues, people usually comment about how I look or which class I come from. This is the usual discussion rather than the facts that I put across. They don’t really counter my argument and if they agree they usually write “you are doing well sister” and I don’t want to be sister-zoned by people. This is a way of dismissing someone’s views. I am an individual and would like to be identified that way.
The real networking or connections you make with people are not in the event but after the event maybe during tea or coffee and like many woman in our country, I have boundaries on time to be back at home in the initial days. However, now my parents understand.
How do you cope with fear of failure?
That’s the most difficult thing that I go through. Now that I am leading movements and doing many projects, I mostly fail. There are only a couple of movements or programmes that are a hit. We are trying to do something new and this usually requires relentless attempts. I am very bad at coping with failures; I usually take a couple of days off and be by myself.
You are now exploring the digital medium…
Social media helps to voice out your opinions and views and this is the strongest advantage of social media. Having said that, social media is also the easiest platform where anyone can send you rape threats or acid attack threats. I have received that many times and it has mentally hampered me.
What is the best thing about being you?
I am very vocal and political.
What is the one cause that moves you?
Making young people like me excited about democracy again. It’s time that we remind people what autocracy is and why democracy is a beautiful system.
Have you ever had a mentor or been inspired by someone?
I didn’t have mentors before and didn’t look up to anybody. But now, Basanta Basnet, the Editor of Shilapatra has become my mentor. He probably doesn’t know that I regard him as my mentor but his journey really inspires me. His ability to achieve so much at a very young age motivates me.
What in your opinion holds women back from achieving their dreams?
It’s the patriarchy. I have witnessed many potential women not having aspirations because they are held back by the society. Also, the systems that we are trying to excel at are not designed for us. The systems were made in a way that would work for men. And now women are expected to fit into those systems which were designed to cater to men.
What is your description of beauty in women?
The resilience that we have. Gradually women have started to voice out their opinions in their own homes. And this is beautiful.
What do you do for fun?
I love Nepali literature and read a lot of books. And these days I am swimming.
Three things you really want to do in life…
• Have more women in politics
• Get a scuba license
• Travel around Europe
One thing no woman should have to tolerate
Violence. Opportunity and other things come later but violence is something one should never tolerate.
Cover Girl: Prakriti Bhattarai Basnet
(Instagram: @prakritibhattarai basnet)
Photographer: Suzan Shrestha
Interviewed, Styled & Coordinated by: Ankita Jain
MUA: Suman Lama
Wardrobe : The Basement
Jewelry: Accessories Nepal
Belt: Anmi Accessories Nepal
Hospitality partner: Hotel Yak & Yeti