KATHMANDU: Students have always been an important agent for political, educational and social changes. Sometimes they have even become a force toppling governments. Both men and women are contributing equally to the strength of students’ power, but when it comes to equality in the number of men and women in politics, the number of women remains nominal. It is said women simply avoid politics for various reasons.
Empowerment of women is critical to the country’s social and economic development. But the Nepali society still relies strongly on patriarchal values. Though women today are able to participate more actively in politics than earlier, the male-dominated political culture creates a barrier for them to reach high positions.
Such a situation has created a huge gender disparity even in students’ politics. If we look at the leadership of Free Students Union (FSU), a students’ body to fight for their rights in constituent campuses in Kathmandu Valley, we can see this disparity quite clearly. Out of 22 constituent campuses of Tribhuvan University (TU) in Kathmandu Valley, only four colleges have female chairpersons in FSU, which amounts to just 18.18 per cent.
According to the women chairpersons, there are various reasons for this unequal proportion of male-female in students’ politics. The socio-cultural structure of society and party’s policy, statute of their own students’ union are some of the reasons for this disparity.
Interestingly, women are considered only as voters in FSU elections. So, when it comes to exercising of power and sharing of political responsibilities, women have to fight with the patriarchal mindset sometimes within their own party.
Flaws in Policy
After the restoration of democracy
in 2005-06 through Jana Andolan-II, the government brought about women-friendly policy of 33 per cent reservation for women in the state mechanism and
all other state structures. Women, who were looking for opportunities, grabbed
it and reached a certain height. But
some who got the opportunity but lacked ways to utilise it were manipulated by this patriarchal society.
The government’s provision of 33 per cent reservation helped in changing the statute of various organisations including the students’ union, but not in practice. Out of three students’ union aligned to the three major political parties, only All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), student wing of CPN-UML had one-third women in the 353-member central committee while others have neither changed their statute nor do they have the same kind of participation in the
The Nepal Students’ Union (NSU), aligned to the Nepali Congress (NC), does not have such a policy to encourage women to get involved in politics. Likewise, the All Nepal National Independent Students Union-Revolutionary (ANNISU-R) aligned to the
UCPN-Maoists has not yet carried out the 33 per cent reservation to women. They have rather given prerogative to their female members to groom them but have not yet added the provision of 33 per cent
Puspa Bhusal, former Constituent Assembly member from NC, said there could be major three reasons for having less women in students politics —patriarchal structure of the society, lack of opportunities and lack of women’s interest in politics.
She said, “Politics should be done for
political, social and policy change not to fulfil one’s vested interest.”
She added that politics is the place
that uses power and money, which is
completely under the control of men.
Men have been habituated to using them since long, therefore, are not willing to hand it over to women.
“Leaders change according to changes in society, therefore, society needs to change first. Along with change in the socio-cultural factor, other factors such as education, financial empowerment also need to be changed. Development of country would be an illusion till 50 per cent population is brought to the mainstream,” she added.
Crisis of confidence
Women leaders of students’ unions still complain that their parties have hesitation in handing over party’s responsibilities to women’s shoulders because of patriarchal mindset. Lal Kumari Pokharel (Swostika), Chairperson, FSU-Padma Kanya, said that during the time of Jana Andolan-II and other kinds of students’ movement, women have never stepped back but the party people have always been biased. Despite having quality and calibre in taking up responsibilities, women were always questioned and major responsibilities of the party were given to men, she said.
Similar is the experience of Bina Magar, FSU Chairperson, Saraswoti Multiple Campus — she has been participating in the political, social and cultural activities of the party but she still has not been able to gain some position in her party. She said she was ‘disappeared’ by the State during Maoist insurgency and tortured by army personnel. “If a woman can stay in jail and endure the same pain and suffering like a man, why can’t they lead the students’ union and prove themselves?” she questioned.
Women and Men:
There are many cases of a boy and a girl joining higher studies together but a girl graduates faster than a boy because the majority of girls are career-oriented, while boys are politics-oriented. Due to socio-cultural aspect in Nepal, many women complete their studies, engage themselves either in prospering their career or family affairs. But men are rarely involved in such activities. Experts say that men try not to pass the exams to remain in politics as a student for a longer time. If they pass, they get admission in other faculties or subjects to continue politics.
Shanta Shedai, an active cadre of NSU, left politics when she got married. She said, “After the restoration of democracy, after People’s Movement in 1990, political parties were interested in vested interests. I was frustrated in politics and left it.”
She said she started working as a lawyer and was satisfied and is still continuing in the same profession.
Though the nation has become a republic and a lot has changed in the country’s political and other sectors, we are still living in a patriarchal society. Religions, customs and norms are always male-dominated, therefore, politics too — major factor that changes the socio-economic structure of society is still under the control of males.
According to Pokharel, women themselves should be aware of the possibilities of physical and mental attacks on them in various situations. If any woman tries to change the mentality of people, she has to prove herself in every step of her life and she is rarely given big responsibilities.
Magar, said women have to be careful
and prove herself in every step of her life. Women have dual responsibilities — take care of her family as well as be competent in other fields as well.