Belated but great

The House of Representatives unanimously passed May 30 a historic proposal to empower the Nepali women. Two most significant decisions emanated from the proposal: Firstly, the proposal paves the way for the government to issue citizenship certificate to a child on his/her mother’s name, and secondly, it guarantees proportionate representation to women at all levels of governance. As per the proposal, there would be 33 per cent job reservation in the public offices, including in the ones handled by the Public Service Commission, wherein women would compete only amongst themselves to secure the reserved seats. The citizenship right, on the other hand, would allow single mothers (widows, divorcees, etc.) and women married to non-Nepalis to be the rightful approvers or legal guardians of their child. This parliamentary move, therefore, could be termed a truly revolutionary one since it would go down in history as an epoch-making document guaranteeing women their rightful place in the society. Extraordinary as this achievement is for the womenfolks of the country, who are still faced with socio-economic and political discrimination, it holds special significance for those women members of parliament, NGOs/INGOs and other women rights activists who have relentlessly worked for transforming the dream into a reality since just too long.

However, one has to bear in mind that the House has accepted the proposal, presented by MP Bidhya Bhandari and backed by MP N P Saud, only in principle. This means, it has to still acquire a legal shape and all discriminatory provisions of the existing laws would have to be amended or done away with. To implement the commitments of the proposal once it is legalised would be the real test and a truly challenging task for the government. Although the proposal is a giant leap forward in women’s struggle for equality, it remains to be seen how beneficial it will actually be in practice. The 33 per cent reservation, for instance, cannot be blindly adopted by ignoring the merit of the candidates. If a certain standard is to be maintained for any service, competency level has to be judged, irrespective of the gender. Justice has to be done either way. On the other hand, the state will now be confronted with the issue of dual citizenship that would have to be accepted in cases of cross-border marriages. The policy-makers should, therefore, consider the legal and demographic ramifications of the proposal that can have far-reaching consequences for the country. No doubt, progressive steps to empower women have to be hailed and welcomed by all sections of society, but the government has to be cautious while dealing with sensitive issues like these which could have serious bearing on the national interest in the long-run.