Yesterday, whilst my brother and I were eating at the ‘Authentic Nepali Kitchen Restaurant’ , we noticed a man filming something going on TV. It was a very out of the way place and certainly one of the very few places you’d see Nepali TV on in Thamel (the backpackers’ lair). The on-goings looked vaguely parliamentary, and I saw a woman speaking to take some kind of office. It excited my academic curiosity as part of my doctoral work was on the representation on women in the Indian Parliament.
It felt like a moment. Not the ones you take for granted everyday, but the ones you remember as ‘having been there when it happened’. I’d also had the pleasure of seeing the election of the First Lady Speaker of India’s Lower House from within Parliament itself. This felt like .. another one of those moments I would not forget, courtesy of the Authentic Nepali Kitchen Restaurant. For me, it was a delightful sign to get back to that part of my life, research and work as well. (And my brother took photos me of grinning like a cat who had just had two bowls of cream and tuna)
At first I thought it was a Speaker’s election, and then found myself happily corrected when we had the chance to look at some English-language news. Not a Speaker, but a President!
What makes me even happier is that Nepal has pretty much set a powerful standard for South Asian legislatures (and Western ones too) as it has passed – as part of its new constitution – a law ensuring that at least 33% of all MPs are female and that either the President or Vice President must be a woman.
In India, that particular issue has basically stayed stagnant since its first introduction as – the Women’s Reservation Bill – in 1996. Parliament has been paralyzed on account of the idea of bringing more women into its fold on many an occasion.
But not so in Nepal. I’m overjoyed!
The new President, Mrs. Bidhya Devi Bhandari is the vice-chair of the Ruling Communist Party of Nepal. She was previously the country’s defence minister. As President, she has vowed to address minority & women’s issues. Let’s see what unfolds 😉
Whilst the role of the President is largely ceremonial, what excites me about all of this is the legislative requirement of 33% women as the bare minimum. That is going to create ripples of change, and I hope it will once again fuel India’s political will to tackle the same issue once again (nearly 2 decades later). It’ll be interesting to see how this translates for a greater representation of women in South Asian Politics.
Go Nepal! Wooo!
Dr. Bairavee Balasubramaniam. PhD
For those of you interested in my research on reservation policies, gender and politics in India, feel free to check out my PhD Thesis, The Dramaturgy of Ritual Performances in The Indian Parliament (2013) .