Nepal | August 07, 2020

Time is now #PressforProgress

Elisabeth von Capeller, Veronica Cody, Valerie Julliand, Mashfee Shams and Alaina B Teplitz
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Nepal has ingrained traditions and seats of power that are occupied by the same sectors of society. But the shift following the promulgation of the constitution to historic elections is showing that society is rethinking and redefining what it means to lead

Women’s Day. Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha

There is a swell of change around the world that is shaking up gender roles and amplifying women’s voices into the mainstream, from small moments to large movements.  Millions of people marched for women in the United States, while one lone protester was heard from the streets of Iran. The United Nations’ top management reached gender parity, while one family chose school over marriage for their daughter in Nepal.

From one voice to millions, women and men are collectively demanding progress with gender equality and taking steps towards it.

In Nepal, this ground-swell for women’s rights, equality and justice has resulted in significant changes. The 2017 elections saw a historic number of women running and becoming elected officials, from the local level in the Gau and Nagar Palikas to the Provincial Assemblies and National Parliament. More than 14,000 women have taken up office. Many of these women are not professional politicians, but they come from every corner of Nepali society: small entrepreneurs, farmers, mothers, teachers. They were all motivated to actively participate in decisions that affect them, their families, their communities and their livelihoods.

Also in 2017, new legislation and policies were developed outlawing harmful practices like chhaupadi, sexual harassment, and violence against women. This changing political landscape has women and men working together to push women’s rights forward.

But decisions about women’s lives do not just belong to those in Singha Durbar, it’s also essential for people from the most remote communities, to the bustling centre of Pokhara to weigh in on the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their mothers, daughters, sisters, and neighbours, because legislation and policies are just words on paper if not acted upon.

Parents who send their daughters to school instead of marrying them off, families who reject chhaupadi, and couples who don’t practise dowries, all influence the society around them.

This powerful momentum is what makes this International Women’s Day so special. There is a seismic shift in gender equality, women’s empowerment and inclusion that is undeniable.  But the #PressforProgress must not abate. With this landmark election, Nepalis sent a message that women can and should lead. When leadership is inclusive, decisions are inclusive.

Nepal has ingrained traditions and seats of power that are occupied by the same sectors of society. But the aforementioned shift following the 2015 promulgation of the constitution to the historic 2017 elections is showing that society is rethinking and redefining what it means to lead.

Inclusive leaders are those women and men who measure their success in the reflection of the well-being of others and who lead collectively. This means that women who farm know what climate change is doing to their harvests and lands; they can govern from a place of environmental sensitivity; and they understand small-yield agriculture’s contribution to the economy, and how poverty impacts progress.

This means that a person with disabilities knows how difficult it is to catch a bus in the city; they can govern knowing that improved urban transportation and ease of mobility can allow others to lead healthy and prosperous lives, and provide safety and security. The list goes on.

In Nepal, as women take leadership positions in the various spheres of government, they need to define how they will take forward their role as leaders in their communities. To do this, they will need time, time to undertake new dimensions of decision making—with both the risks and gains that new experiences bring.  They will also need the support of colleagues, communities and families, as well as respect for and recognition of their expertise and added-values. They must be given the space and support to fulfill the promises and aspirations they brought with them into their new roles and awakened in others through their election.

Gender equality does not happen overnight; it is a process, lengthy, often painful, and at times, we discover that we continue to fight battles long after we thought we were at the finishing line. But to take those essential steps towards gender equality and the realisation of the rights of women, we must have strong leaders, advocates for change, who lead by example. Nepal needs leaders in each of its seven provinces and 753 local bodies who measure their success as leaders through the transformation they see in moving towards a more equal and just society.

Capeller is Ambassador of Switzerland, Cody is Ambassador of European Union, Julliand is UN Resident Coordinator, Shams is Ambassador of Bangladesh and Teplitz is Ambassador of the United States

A version of this article appears in print on March 08, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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