‘It will take time for anti-VAW message to be included in curriculum’

Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Lawmaker Binda Pandey is one of the lawmakers who steered the process of pushing a stricture in the House highlighting the problems of violence against women (VAW). She is also fighting for other rights of women by registering amendments to several bills that she thinks have not done justice to women. Jagdishor Panday of THT  caught up with her to know her views on some crucial issues related to women empowerment. Excerpts:

The Parliament has recently passed a stricture against VAW. You were among the lawmakers in the forefront of this move. What is the status of the stricture now?

There are mainly three things in the stricture that the House wants the concerned agencies to do. The most important of the three things is that the government needs to incorporate anti-VAW message in the school curriculum. What I know is that the Minister of Education has held a meeting with the Curriculum Development Centre led by Director General of the High Level Education Commission.

In that meeting, they discussed content related to the anti-VAW message that have been included in the existing curriculum till now and what should be included in future. They have agreed to include anti-VAW message in all the classes. Anti-VAW message will be included in social studies. The government team drafting the curriculum has said it will take feedback from the relevant parliamentary committee on the issues. Concerned authorities are trying to introduce anti-VAW message from the basic education curriculum to the high school level curriculum. Four groups will prepare the curriculum. They will hold discussions with lawmakers in the parliamentary committee. After consulting lawmakers, they will include the anti-VAW message in the curriculum as per the spirit of the stricture. The government is preparing to introduce anti-VAW message in the school curriculum from 2019.

Next, the Minister of Women, Children and Senior Citizens will launch programmes to increase social awareness against VAW. The minister has said the government will first start national level social awareness programme from November 25, coinciding with the Violence Against Women Day. We are now preparing a list of what we can do for the programme. Lawmakers, who steered the process of moving the stricture in the House, are now thinking how they can assist the government to support its social awareness programme against VAW.

Since major festivals such as Dashain and Tihar fall in the month of October and November, federal and provincial lawmakers will be going home to celebrate the festivals.  As per the spirit of the stricture, all the elected lawmakers, including those of the local levels, need to aid the government’s social awareness programme by spreading the anti-VAW message across the country.

Province 1 has planned a social awareness programme led by the speaker of the province for today. I think other provinces can also launch similar programmes.  Some media outlets also want to aid the government’s social awareness programme against the problems of VAW. So, all sections of society are positively contributing to the anti-VAW cause.

The government will have to invest enough resources to do the job mandated by the stricture. Do you think the government is positive about it?

We need enough resources for this. Implementation of the stricture depends on how seriously we all take VAW problems. Cases of VAW are on the rise and the entire society is worried. This was the reason we decided to move the stricture in the House. Passing of the stricture has injected a hope in the public that the concerned agencies will do enough to curb VAW incidents.

My assessment is that once a suitable curriculum is introduced in the school, it will change people’s behaviour in society because it will inculcate positive behaviour in them.  Our sons and daughter will also engage in anti-VAW discourse in society. It is education that brings changes in the mindset of society.

Norms and values of society are observed. Our social structure also determines how we see women and VAW. Implementation will change patriarchal mind-set and bring equality. This can contribute to betterment of society.

Was it hard for you and other lawmakers from your party to convince your party leaders to pass the stricture?

We moved the motion on the basis of common understanding between lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties. Twenty-eight lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties registered the stricture in the HoR on March 26. It took the House some time to pass the stricture due to several factors, including budgetary discussions.  During budgetary discussion, we didn’t think it was appropriate for us to press for discussion on the stricture, although it warranted immediate attention of the House.

As per the rules, a stricture registered in one session of the Parliament cannot be carried on in the next session of the Parliament. We needed to offer explanation regarding the relevance of the stricture. We registered it again in the new session of the House on July 5. The second time when we registered the stricture, we didn’t think lawmakers who had signed the motion earlier, should sign it again. Other lawmakers also signed the stricture on July 5. Altogether, we had 40 lawmakers who supported the stricture.

It was included for debate in the House for July 16, but the debate could not take place.

Once a stricture is passed it is sent to the Cabinet for endorsement.  Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli wanted to know about the stricture. He told us not to move the stricture in the House now. So, I sent a printed and electronic copy of the stricture to the PM. The speaker, deputy speaker and our party leaders also briefed the government about the stricture. At last, we were able to convince all the stakeholders regarding the stricture. All this took a while. That’s why people think he leadership of the ruling party was negative towards the stricture. There was communication gap on this issue.

Your party has not ensured 33 per cent representation of women. What is your take on this?

Whether or not Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is women-friendly has to be seen from two perspectives. If you look at our party from the standpoint of its policies, then I can tell you that we are ahead of other political parties. But we do have problems at the implementation level. There’s a gap between policy and practice. That is our problem. There is a provision in the Political Party Act that there should be one-third women in all the committees of the parties. The erstwhile CPN-UML said in 2009 that there should be representation of one-third women in all committees. The interim statute of our party also stipulates that there should be one-third women in all the committees of the party. The statute also says that if women representatives are not available then the women’s post should remain vacant. But in practice this rule has not been implemented.  The law passed by the Parliament has not been followed by our party. Somebody has filed a writ petition in the court demanding representation of 33 per cent women in the party committees. So, now, the court will decide. I should not comment on this.

The constitution has guaranteed right to equality and yet children of Nepali women married to foreign men cannot qualify for citizenship by descent.  What do you have to say?

Two things that need to be discussed. Constitutional provisions discriminate against women as far as the citizenship issue is concerned.  We need to amend the constitution first to bring transformation in society. If the citizenship bill being considered by the Parliament is amended, it can address some of the concerns of women. The Parliament can amend the bill saying children of Nepali mothers will get Nepali citizenship. But if the citizenship bill is passed in its current form, it will violate some fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. Our main job is to implement the constitution. The constitution stipulates that all citizens have the right to live with dignity and they should be treated equally. All citizens also have right to privacy.  Citizenship bill contradicts the constitutional provision of right to privacy.

The citizenship bill stipulates that women, who do not want to name the fathers of their children, should give reasons for the same.

I am for equal lineage rights for women, which the constitution guarantees. This citizenship bill totally denies this right. Every citizens has the right to equality, right to live with dignity, right to privacy and every child has the right to national identity. This citizenship bill violates these fundamental rights of women.

I would also like to discuss a little about the other three bills that will affect women. Right to privacy stipulates that one cannot be forced to reveal details about of his/her health. On the other hand, the bill related to  motherhood rights stipulates that a child  can get birth certificate on the basis of either his/her  father or mother’s nationality; but  the citizenship bill stipulates that the mother should disclose who  her child’s father is. These are contradictory provisions of the bills that were brought by the same government.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli recently said in his address to the assembly of Province 2 that a child will get Nepali citizenship if any of his parents is a Nepali citizen. This means the constitution should be amended.

But the citizenship bill was drafted against the spirit of the constitution and the statement of the prime minister. How can these bills be drafted against the spirit of the prime minister’s statement. We have a parliamentary system of governance and the bills should reflect the PM’s vision.  Now, parliamentary committees that are debating these bills should ensure that they do not violate constitutional provisions.

You are fighting for women’s rights. Migrant Nepali women are not allowed to go to gulf countries. How do you view this restriction?

If we sit here and talk from the standpoint of women’s rights, we may conclude that preventing any Nepali woman from going somewhere is against the right of free mobility guaranteed by the constitution. Both male and female should have the right to free mobility.  But, if you look at the risks Nepali women face in destination counties, we have to find pragmatic solutions to this problem.

To protect one fundamental right of women, we can’t violate other fundamental rights of women. We face a question whether we should send our sisters and daughters abroad?  So, we are telling the government it should not prevent women from going to gulf countries for work.

But we can do one thing. We can sign government to government agreement with the destination countries as we are doing with South Korea. Such an arrangement will make it easy for the government to track Nepali women labourers and their whereabouts in destination countries.

The government should also respect the mobility of women’s right.  We have to work for G-to-G approach.

What is your observation of the implementation of international instruments that guarantee women’s rights to which Nepal is also a party?

As I mentioned before, implementation of the laws is weak. We have to reflect those agreements in our policies and laws, but we have not been able to do so in a comprehensive manner. So, there is a gap between policy and practice in Nepal. The challenge is to bridge this gap.

You have also registered amendments to the right to privacy bill? What changes do you want in the bill?

Individual’s right to privacy should be respected, but public officers should not be allowed to claim right to privacy on issues related to their posts. The media should be free to report on the conduct of public post holders to the extent that the conduct is related to public interest. But public persons should have right to privacy on other matters that are purely private.

The new penal code has angered journalists and doctors. They say the code criminalises their work. What is your view?

I don’t have an answer to this question. But I have a question for them. Why did media outlets, journalists, doctors and others kept quiet for one year until the penal code came into force. They are saying that they are not happy with this code. First, they have to accept that they didn’t read the contents of the new law for a long time.

If there is a problem, they should not go on strike. We can solve the problem. But it will take time. We lawmakers are here. It will not be the right approach to find a quick solution.  If there is problem, there is a process for solving it and we are ready to follow it.