women in politics | gender empowerment | election | women in election | political structures

Women candidates win voters’ confidence despite political parties mistrust

When women run, women can win, but political parties show little trust during candidate selection while party structures deny women’s progression to election seats

- By Aakriti Maya Aryal & Shraddha Aryal | |

An Iconic Photograph of 1990 Nepalese revolution | Source: Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons
An Iconic Photograph of 1990 Nepalese revolution | Source: Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons

49.2% female voters out of a total of 17.9 million voters. A share of 51.04% female in 29.1 million population. Yet Nepal’s mainstream political parties have left female politicians out in the cold during elections failing to recognise that women need to contest elections too and that they can win.

In the recently held House of Representatives (HoR) election for 165 members through the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system, there were only 225 female candidates out of the total 2,412 candidates, the proportion of women contesting the election standing at 9.3%.

Out of the 225 female candidates, 148 women were party candidates while 77 contested independently.

At the provincial assembly election where 3,224 candidates competed, only 280 were women (8.7%), including 98 independent candidates.

Mainstream political parties tout egalitarianism, but fail to recognise women come election
Across the mainstream political parties, the number of seats they awarded to women sat well below 10% (see graph 1 below). Only Maoists (Centre), which awarded 8 out of 46 election seats to female candidates, exceeded 10% equating to 18%.

 

At the provincial assembly election, the situation was worse (see graph 2 below). Women were awarded election seats below 6% across the mainstream political parties.

 

 

The hesitation to accommodate more females in the electoral race is an indication that mainstream political parties aren’t convinced women must contest elections and that they can win, despite constantly talking about women empowerment.

In light of the prejudice, Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya accused political parties of committing political violence against women by not fielding even 10% candidates.

The final election result
In the final election result, a total of nine female candidates won the HoR election, while 14 female candidates secured PA seats under the FPTP system, including two in Province-1, four in Madhesh, five in Bagmati, two in Gandaki and one in Lumbini Province. There were no female representatives elected in the Karnali and Sudurpaschim Province assembly.

Although Nepal's Constitution mandates 33% reservation for women across parliaments, this election saw 91 women making it to the House of Representatives, thanks to the proportional representation (PR) system. But, it constitutes only 31.1% representation, which is still below the mandated constitutional provision.

In the provincial assemblies, the composition of women parliamentarians is slightly better, where they clinched 200 seats (36.36%) out of the total 550.

Comparing with the past outcomes
When the recent general election outcomes are compared with the past election results, the trend shows rather a regressing pattern.

Almost 63 years ago, female representation was non-existent in the 1959 parliament, where six women had contested the election. In decades that followed, there was a modest gain in women winning parliamentary seats. In the first constitution assembly election held in 2008, the proportion of total number of seats that female candidates won reached around 12.5%.

 

But in the next three consecutive elections, it has fallen below 6%, which begs a serious explanation as to why there are so few elected female candidates? A clear-cut answer is that only a few women candidates get to contest elections in the first place and the choices political party leadership makes has a lot to do with it.

Struggle for the election seat
In the run-up to the November 20 polls, there were few interesting cases that capture how women struggle to grab election tickets.

In an interaction with the Nepali Congress party chair and the incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, NC candidate Mahalaxmi Upadhyay ‘Dina’ criticised her party for failing to create adequate space and leadership opportunities inside the party structures for women where the entire party hierarchy is controlled by men while also taking a stance that she deserves an election seat. Deuba heeded to her stance but reportedly told her to not show her face if she loses.

Upadhyaya's stance didn't go in vain as she made a strong statement choosing to contest the competitive process instead of opting for her name in the PR list, although she lost to RPP candidate Deepak Bahadur Singh in the Makwanpur electoral constituency-1 securing 25,423 votes and losing by 2,393 votes.

CPN (UML) leader Dr Bina Pandey, who long-served as a parliamentarian (2008-2012 and 2017-2022) both under the PR category, was denied election seat despite her credentials as a gender expert, a seasoned lawmaker and her desire to contest the November polls that she had made clear to her party leadership. Neither the party committee of her constituency recommended her name to the central selection committee, nor the central leadership nominated her where they could have made an exception.

When women run, women can win
In spite of the fact that only a handful of women candidates had tickets to contest election, the result shows that women candidates have proved their mettle securing victory with huge margins and against heavyweight politicians.

Table 1: List of women candidates who won and their margin victoryIn Kailali, Ranjita Shrestha secured a 12,323 margin victory against the Nepali Congress candidate Ram Janam Chaudhary despite contesting from a newly founded Nagarik Unmukti Party.

In Dang, Rekha Sharma defeated CPN-UML general secretary Shankar Pokharel.

In Kathmandu, Sobita Gautam, a lawyer and a youth activist by profession and a RSP candidate (another recently founded party), secured victory against a well-established CPN (UML) candidate Mani Ram Phuyal by a margin of 3,674 votes.

Another RSP candidate Dr. Toshima Karki, a general surgeon by profession defeated CPN (UML) candidate Amrit Khadka by a margin of 5,985 votes.

The number of total votes these nine candidates have secured isn’t dismal either. In total, they secured a total of 217,812 votes.

Whereas many other women candidates lost the election despite being close contenders. Goma Tamang (RSP), Manju Kumari Chaudhari (CPN-UML), Chitralekha Yadav (NC), Pushpa Bhusal (NC), Mahalaxmi Upadhyay ‘Dina’ (NC) and Ram Kumari Jhankri (CPN-Unified Socialist) are few among the female candidates who lost the close battles.

In sum, the overall outcomes hint at growing public readiness to support candidates irrespective of gender.

Further, if one compares the proportion of victory within the respective gender category, eight percent men (156) won the electoral race out of the total 1,948 male party candidates.

There is only a narrow difference when it comes to the women category with 6.1% women party candidates (9) winning out of 148 nominations.

Yet why women don't get election seats
Underrepresentation of women in parliamentary election is inherent to most societies and Nepal is not an exception where complex factors, among many, explain this gap:

First, political parties have been a male-dominated network which is shaped by men and where they hold key positions in the hierarchy. This dominance limits political opportunities for women — from entry, networking and visibility to developing and leveraging important political and economic capital (for instance, patronage relations) — the inadequacy of which dissuades them from entering politics and sticking to it.

Second, FPTP is a competitive process, which demands large resources for electoral campaigns and a strong party backup. In such scenarios, women are more likely to avert elections in the first place.

Third, lack of internal party democracy and structures that are built in ways where competency and inclusion is still not central. The case of Binda Pandey is a vivid example. To elaborate more, parties’ candidate selection committees are yet to internalise women’s presence and voice in their structures and processes which translates into low chances of women’s nomination.

Fourth, political parties consider women as weak candidates, and fielding them as a politically risky move. The outcomes of the November 20 polls, including how men and women candidates have fared within their own respective groups, show that such perception doesn't hold water.

Fifth, with the introduction of the PR system, political parties are using it as a substitute to fulfil the mandated constitutional provision of 33%, while excusing themselves with the responsibility to create an enabling environment for women to make a stride in their political careers, where contesting elections play an influential role.

Aakriti Maya Aryal & Shraddha Aryal | Aakriti is Communications Lead/Desk Editor at the_farsight | Shraddha is a researcher/writer at the_farsight.

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