Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe has been trying to empower women lawmakers ever since she assumed the post of deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. A first-time parliamentarian, who previously used to work as women and human rights activist, Tumbahamphe has also held meetings with deputy speakers of provincial assemblies to help them play effective roles. Jagdishor Panday of The Himalayan Times met the academician to listen to her experience. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate your performance as deputy speaker of the House of Representatives in the last one-and-a-half years?
I have gathered a lot of experience after becoming deputy speaker. I worked in different fields, especially in the areas of women’s rights and human rights, before becoming a lawmaker. That experience has helped me in my present role. One of the key responsibilities of Parliament is to make laws and I am playing a facilitator’s role in meeting that objective. I know I can do a lot more, but lines have been drawn by the constitution and laws. So, there are limitations and sometimes it is not easy to work within those boundaries. But I am doing my best to deliver as much as I can.
You launched capacity enhancement programme for women lawmakers after joining office. What is the purpose of this programme?
This is my first experience as a lawmaker. But before joining the Parliament I worked in the area of women’s rights. I have always felt that women need to be empowered. Men and women have their own strengths and weaknesses. In some areas, women are better and in some areas men. Women lawmakers in Nepal are capable, but we need to further enhance their capacity so that they can work more efficiently. This is the reason for launching the programme. It is essential to enhance female lawmakers’ capacity because the roles they play are not only being assessed in the Parliament but outside the Parliament as well. We have hired parliamentary experts for this programme, which also focuses on expanding media coverage on women’s issues.
How has the programme enhanced the capacity of women lawmakers?
We have organised three training sessions in the last one-and-a-half years. These sessions focused on the way businesses are conducted in the upper and lower houses, the process of drafting bills and the importance of question-answer session in Parliament. These trainings have taught how women lawmakers can effectively present themselves in Parliament. We have seen some improvements in presentation of women lawmakers since the programme was launched.
How is the coordination between federal Parliament and provincial assemblies?
There is a cell in the Parliament Secretariat that plays the role of a bridge between federal Parliament and provincial assemblies. But speakers and deputy speakers of provincial assemblies can also contact us directly if there is need. So, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the chair of the National Assembly and other members of the federal parliament hold consultations with speakers and deputy-speakers of provincial assemblies whenever there is need.
What issues have deputy speakers of provincial assemblies raised during your meeting with them?
I have met deputy speakers of all provincial assemblies. During the meetings, they look for tips to present issues more effectively and cope with certain situations. They also complain that they rarely get the opportunity to run the assemblies. They get this opportunity only when the speaker is absent. So, they generally ask for ways to play a more effective role in the assemblies.
So, what do you tell them?
I tell them that’s how a parliamentary system works. I also ask them not to take things personally because we have to make collective effort to ensure that the institution functions properly. I also ask them to collaborate to achieve better results.
How often are these meetings held?
Last year, the meeting was attended by speakers of the federal Parliament and provincial assemblies, and chair and co-chair of the National Assembly as well. We had planned a similar meeting this year, but we had to cancel it. We later held a video conference. The meeting lasted for 45 minutes. The meeting focused on issues of gender inequality.
Neither the federal Parliament nor provincial assemblies have been able to elect a woman to the post of chairperson or speaker. Why?
This is gender disparity. The revolutions over the years have played an important role in bridging the gender gap. Today, there are provisions in the constitution for raising women’s participation in different areas. The constitution clearly says that speakers and deputy speakers should be of different genders. But the charter does not say the posts of speaker and chairperson are men’s prerogative and women can only rise to the level of deputy speaker or deputy chair. However, in reality, women end up becoming deputies not only in the federal Parliament or provincial assemblies but in the local levels too. So, there are problems in implementation of constitutional provisions.
So, how can things improve?
Women and men are equally capable. But many have doubts about women’s competence and think women cannot run an institution or an organisation properly. The problem begins from the time candidates are selected for national, provincial and local elections when men are given priority. This is gender disparity. So, mindsets have to change.
How do you evaluate the performance of female chairs of parliamentary committees?
Many parliamentary committees are now led by women. I have been helping them in whatever way I can without crossing the boundary set for me. They are doing their job properly, which is a positive sign.
The main opposition Nepali Congress has said the Parliament has become a shadow of the government. What is your take on the issue?
The parliament has been following its process and doing its business. Political parties may accuse each other, but Parliament follows its own course.
There are also charges that Parliament is not functioning effectively. How can this change?
We have started question-answer session. There are also zero and special hours. We want lawmakers to utilise these platforms to ask as many questions and share concerns. So, lawmakers should be more effective. At the same time, we also want the government to answer as many questions raised by lawmakers.
Lastly, the Parliament Secretariat is producing three-minute-long video profile of every lawmaker of the Parliament. Why?
The Parliament Secretariat is planning to go paperless. That’s why we are making video profiles. We currently have to go through a book to check the profiles of lawmakers.
A version of this article appears in print on September 09, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.