Women’s role in Gender, Class and the “Inclusive & proportionate”
Movement in Nepal
At this very moment Nepal is making a constitution through the historie Constitutional
Assembiy (CA). It is important to note that up till now all prior constitutions handed over
to the people of Nepal were through direct intervention of oligarchs or kings. It was the
historic ten years of People’s War (PW) (1996-2006) complimented with 19 days of
People’s Movement (April 2006) that made it possible to bring about a free and fair CA
eIection in April 2008 as a means to make a people’s constitution by the people
themselves. It is under the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
[CPN(Maoist)] and its skillful use of united front with various parties that the monarchy
system was abolished in 2008.
The specificity of Nepalese movement is the presence of a strong lett movement. For this very reason women’s movement is comparatively strong in Nepal. Women’s exploitation being deep rooted, embracing all sectors, one of the oldest and longest exploitations, from womb to tomb, is conducive to communist movements taking the lead. Of course one has to fight against patriarchal tendencies within the Communist Party or similar tendencies arising from the stage of development of the society, which ultimately find retlection on the Party or movement. But what is important to note is that there are always rightist,ultra-leftist and eclectic middle tendencies within the Party or movement which will affect women’s movement accordingly. Women have to fight for a correct line, which will address both the class and gender issues in correct proportion. In Nepal’s specific case we have to additionally address Dalit, regional and ethnic oppression because they are interrelated to women’s oppression.
Women’s Movement before PW
It is important to note that the first people’s movement that took place in 1990 lasted
almost 50 days and resulted in the overthrow of the “partyless” Panchayat system, a one party system run from the royal palace that had lasted for thirty years (1970-1990).
During monarchical rule women’s and student’s fronts were very active as political parties were banned and they operated through these fronts. This is in sharp contrary to most of other South Asian countries where women’s movement emerged along with independent movements against foreign rule. When the 1990 anti-monarchical movement started spreading from urban areas towards rural areas the king was forced to negotiate with political parties. This resulted in tri-partite agreement between the king, Nepali Congress (NC) (representing the comprador bourgeois class) and the United Left Front (representing broad reformist left parties) to arrive at a constitutional monarchical
parliamentary system. The new constitution promulgated in 1990 made mandatory that
all the contending Parties file a minimum of five percentage of the seats for women as a
condition to contest the election. In the first 1991 election out of 205 legislatıves
representatives only seven women were elected.
But a second united front, a more radical, United National People’s Movement (UNPM)
which also had been struggling against the Panchayat system decided to continue the
struggle against the constitutional monarchical parliamentary system on the ground that
only a constituent assembly election would serve the interests of broad mass of the
people. Nonetheless the underground Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre),
CPN(UC)] which was one of the main parties within UNPM, decided to participate in
the first election through its aboveground United People’s Front (UPF). One of its main
aims was to expose the contradiction between monarchy and democracy and the fallacy
of a supposedly democratic Westminster parliamentary system headed by the king. It
fielded 59 candidates of which there were four women candidates. Nine candidates won in the election placing the party as the third largest after the bourgeois NC and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) [CPN(UML)J. None of the UPF women candidates won.
However during the brief six years period before PW started there was a sudden growth
of women’s movements pertaining to gender issues. Many independent women’S
organizations and united fronts of women’s organizations started springing up. Many
debates, talk programs and movements relating to women’s issues started taking place.
Many women’s magazines started to appear. However taking advantage of a partial
freedom of expression given by the new system, the commercializing of women (beauty-contests, pornography, blue films) started taking place openly. Women used all sorts of movements to prevent and discourage these events and tendencies. One such struggle was the successful prevention of a beauty contest in one of the five-star hotels. Women also used Teez, a traditional celebration specific to women that propagated gender oppression, as an opportunity to expose feudal patriarchal values and to propagate left ideology. It is interesting to note that Teez is a Hindu festival seeking longevity of life of husbands for married women and for seeking good husbands for unmarried women. Thus the 1990 people’s movement prepared a base for weakening the feudal patriarchal base in the country.
Focus on urban and gender issues gradually shifted to rural and class issues when CPN (UC) decided to boycott the election in the year 1994. Many false cases were charged against cadres and sympathizers in the name of suppressing “boycotters”. When, under police attack, most men fled the villages, it was women who not only had to look after household but also do work traditionally done by men, such as roofing of houses, ploughing land etc. But soon they too were hunted, harassed and raped and thus they too were forced to go underground. All these incidents created conducive ground for launching PW, which was to start on 6 Feb 1996. Meanwhile CPN(UC) was renamed as Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN(Maoist)], under whose leadership PW started.
Women’s movement during PW
The PW, which lasted for ten years from 1996 to 2006, was a phenomenal historical
achievement in Nepalese history as it removed nearly 240 years of monarchy, creating a federal democratic republic in Nepal. The many thousands who joined the class war
became not only class conscious, but also gender, Dalit, region and ethnic conscious.
One of the historical achievements oI PW waS that t made a big leap in women’s lives.
They joined all the fronts, he Party, United Front and the People’s Liberation Arm
(PLA), the three instruments ol revolution. ror he irst ume women became professiona
whole-time revolutionaries not in tens but in hundreds, not in hundreds but in thousandst. Betore PW started there were oniy 2 women whole-timers in the then CPN (Unity Centre).
Women became professional revolutionaries by joining PLA, militias, production
brigades. They became policy makers; they worked as couriers, organizers, as barefooted health workers, as radio anchors. For the first time they were taught to target feudal state apparatus as an instrument of class and gender oppression. For the first time they were taught to fight for new democracy, a state which will do away with feudalism completely. For the first time they got the opportunity of competing on an equal footing with men combatants in war fronts. For the first time they could get married or remarried irrespective of caste, class, region and ethnicity, choosing a partner on the basis of love and ideology. For the tirst time women’s mass front was not only geared to addressing women’s oppression but also to producing red and expert women tor running cottage industries, producing soldiers and leaders for the Party, militias and the PLA, running communes, co-operatives etc. Similarly by assoCiating with the masses at the grass rootS level, the new women leaders became sensitized at a deep level to regional, ethnic, class and caste oppression.
What made them more confident was that in the base areas they were able to practice
what they preached in villages declared “woman model village” where women practiced
special rights, exereised equal rights to parental property, where it was forbidden to beat women, where women were involved n constructing trekking trail, martyr gates, running people’s court etc. The nineteen days people’s movement of April 2006, which was mainly limited to Katmandu and the few other major urban areas, helped in instilling the agendas brought forward by CPN (Maoist) among the urban masses. It prepared a wider ground for removal of the absolute monarchy.
Participation of women in the constitution making
The present peace process which started in 2006 and continued till today is the result of
“12 point understanding ” reached between seven political Parties and CPN (Maoist) in
the year 2006. The essence of the 12 point understanding was that it united all democratic parties against the king, preparing a base for restructuring the state and ending feudal structures. The peace process gave the opportunity to CPN (M) to institutionalize the issues they had been raising and practicing during PW, namely that of institutionalizing democracy and the republic through CA election, and pursing a federalism based on ethnicity, region and other factors.
The hallmark of the present constitution making process is that CPN (Maoist) has been
taking the initiative in every stage of the process, be it making interim constitution, be it
forcing other parties to participating in CA election, be it making sure CA committees
submit their constitution draft in time.
Thus, the Preamble in the Interim Constitution of Nepal (2007) reflects the issues raised
in the PW: “Having determined upon the progressive restructuring ot the state in order to resolve the existing problems ot the country relatng to class, caste, region and gender…”
A crucial aspect of the historic Constituent Assembly election, which took place in 2008,
is that it adopted a mixed form of election. By using First Past the Post (FPTP) together
with Proportional Representation (PR) in the election system it was able to bring
inclusiveness and proportionate representation of the various oppressed group present in Nepal. At the time of CA election the election commission had stipulated mandatory
filing of candidates for the PR seats on the basis of S0%-50% male and female
candidacies, with regional, caste and ethnic groups required similarly to be represented
among party candidates, 31.2% for Madhesi, 13% for Dalits, 37.8 for Janajatis (ethnic
groups), 4% for backward region and 30.2% belonging to others. Similarly the interim
constitution stipulated that a minimum of one-third of the total number of candidates
nominated shall be women taking together the number of candidates based on FPTP &
Today there are 601 CA members, out of which 240 members are elected on the basis of FPTP, 335 on the basis of PR while 26 are nominated by the main Parties with the view of incorporating those communities which had been left out.
The CPN (Maoist) won the highest number of CA members (both male and female): 120
CA through FPTP and 100 through PR. Second came the NC which has 37 CA through
FPTP and 73 through PR. And third is the CPN (UML), which has 33 through FPTP and
75 through PR. The total number of Maoist CA women members elected via both FPTP
& PR far exceeds the number in the other main parties.
Table no.1. Women elected in major 3 parties
ohu T lal
35 44) 16
Samudayik Sarathi Nepal/ 2008/ Members of the Constituent Assembly/ Kathmandu,
Only Maoist women were elected as CA members through FPTP who were Dalit, ethnic, backward region, or Madhesi, that is from the minority and discriminated against
communities. Similarly the same trend is seen in the case of PR (see Table no.3) thus
helping to make CA relatively inclusive more and proportionate.
Table 2. Women elected through FPTP from minority communities in 3 major parties
Samudayik Sarathi Nepal/ 2008/ Members of the Constituent Assembly/ Kathmandu,
Nepal: Samudayik Sarathi
Only 30 women CA members won in the 240 FPTP constituencies. Thus it is precisely
because of PR system that women came to be substantially represented in the CA. In fact the proportional representation/mixed form of election has indirectly forced the non-
Maoist Parties to adopt class, gender, ethnic, region and Dalit agenda within their
organizational structure and programme.
Table 3 No of women elected through PR in major 3 parties
Samudayik Sarathi Nepal/ 2008/ Members of the Constituent Assembly/ Kathmandu,
Nepal: Samudayik Sarathi
Out of a total of 197 women members in the CA, Maoists elected 74 by far the largest
number among the parties. This number has increased as many smaller Parties within CA have joined CPN(Maoist) making it now the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [UCPN(M)
Also interesting is that among the 24 Maoist women elected in constituencies through
FPTP.(wo belong to the Dalit caste. This is of historical importance because no woman
Dalit had ever previously won in a direct election in Nepal. Similarly nine women CA
members belong to discriminated against ethnic groups, another great historical feat (see Table no.2). It is a mater of pride that eight women CA members belong to martyr
families of the PW.(And four CA couple won election through FPTP)This has also lead
to one couple both of whom won through FPTP joining government in capacity of full
ministers, something rarely seen in the world. Also today the vice-chairperson of the CA
is a woman belonging to UCPN (Maoist). Similarly the whip for the Maoist Party is a
woman. It is equally interesting to note that the two seats won by NC and one seat won
by UML through FPTP belong to high caste Hindu Brahmin.
Seven women chairpersons head ditierent legislative and constitutional committees, three belonging to the UCPN (Maoist. Smilary the _second highest snie reccived-in FPTE constituency went to a Maoist woman_candidale, the highest having been bagged by a male Maoist candidate. MoSt interesting 1s that young district level Maoist women defeated veteran, seasoned central level senior men candidates of other parties.
Federalism is another important agenda of the present constitution making process that
retlects women’s pressure on the organs of the state. The interim constitution calls for a
CA “to Carry out an inclusive, democratic and progressive restructuring of the state by
elimínating its existing form of centralized and unitary structure in order to address the
problems related to women, Dalits, indigenous tribes (Adivasi Janajati), Madhesis,
oppressed and minority communities and other disadvantaged groups, by eliminating
class, caste, language, gender, cultural, religious and regional discrimination,” so as to
enable Madhesi, Dalits, indigenous ethnic groups (Adivasi Janajati), women, laborers,
farmers, the physically impaired, disadvantaged classes and disadvantaged regions to
participate in all organs of the State structure on the basis of proportional inclusion…”
These g0als have strategic implication, and reflect the Maoist analysis of women’s
liberation, as women are an oppressed community within the oppressions of caste, Class, ethnicity and region.
The Maoist CA members have taken the lead in advancing strategic issues pertaining to
women in the draft committees of different CA constitutional committees. It is on this basis that the new constitution is going to be made.
The distinguishing feature of PW in Nepal was that it raised vertical issues relating to
class issues at the same time it pursued horizontal issues such as caste, ethnic, gender and Tegional oppression. To achieve this we Maoists are trying to arrive at Nepal-specitic federalism based on nationality. Today class war 1s being waged in different forms. In short there is a big struggle between those forces wedded to the old feudal and comprador mode of production and those who are struggling for new nationalist capitalist mode of production as a stage on the road to communism.
Women’s liberation is at present at a cross-road, it has the possibility of taking a leap
forward if restructuring of the state takes place in line with new mode of production. But
at the same time it has the possibility of backfiring if–by manipulation in the name of
identity, ethnicity, region–divisive forces are mobilized by the class and national enemy
to preserve old social habits and culture, which are detrimental to women’s emancipation.
Today Maoist women have not only to be skilled in street protests, they have to be
equally inquisitive and eloquent in legislative activities and also skillful in shaping the
restructure of government organs. Similarly Maoist women have the opportunity to know
what in essence constitutes a bourgeois state and make sure the new restructured state
serves the people. At present the Party needs to intervene in the state from both the top
and the bottom, particularly from the base by keeping people well organized and vigilant so that they are on their toes if people based constitution is sabotaged. They should be kept ready to stuggle at evry junctyre of such sabotage. Those who are not happy with CA election results that made the Maoists the largest Party, those who want ot stick with the old feudal unitary system, are obstructing both army integration and the constitution making process. Already there are signs of increasing violence against women, reports of women attacked as witches, Dalits women foeced to eat feces. To blame are the forces seeking to ignore the verdict of CA election, and as the obstucted peace process drags on the results are escalating price rise and rising insecurity.
Today Nepalese women, particularly the Maoist women, have the oppertynity to become hilistic. Tey raised gender issues before PW started and put into practice their response to class and gender issues during the ten years of PW. And today they are vigorously raisnf the “inclusive and proportionate” issue during the constitution making process. We must continuousoy stuffle not only to make a people’s republic constitition bu aslo to implement it.
Today’s stuggle is wheger to make a new Bepal with Nepal-specific federalism addressing all class, fender, Dakit, ethnic and regional issues. To make a constition whch is anti-feudalisr and anti-impeialist. Tomake a constutuion whch not only protects the right of peasants and workers nut aslo accepts their leadership. Or to remain stuck with the old Nepal. Whith the old unitary stare pleus a few consmeric changes.
Similarly tosay’s struggle is where to make women vehicla of status quo or to make wimen vehicle of forward lookng change. The challenge for Maoist women today is to defend the achievements acquired during PW, to apply it in practice creatively and to develop it in order to prepare for higher level of women’s movement.
Asmita/2049/year 7/ No.12/ Baisakh
Asmita/2051/year 7/ No.30/ Mangsir
Samudayik Sarathi Nepal/ 2008/ Members of the Constituent Assembly / Kathmandu, Nepal: Samudayik Sarathi
Yami, Hisila/ September 2006/ People’s War and Women’s Liberation in Nepal/ Raipur: Purvaiya Prakashan,
Nirwachan Ayog/Jesth 2065/ Sambidhansabha Sadasya Nirvachan, 2064, Nirwachan Parinam Pustika/ Kathmandu Nepal: Nirvachan Ayog
UNDP/ January 2008/ The Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2063 (2007)/ UNDP Nepal.