Monday, 17 June, 2024

Local Leaders Must Embrace Ethics

Namrata Sharma

Until and unless we men do not internalise the needs for women’s rights, equality and equity will not be achieved," says Amik Sherchan, Governor of Lumbini Pradesh during an interaction with Mayors, Deputy Mayors and government officials at Lumbini on March 14, 2022. Although an extremely long and tiring speech of an hour and half, the octogenarian political leader spoke words of wisdom and engaged his listeners with his views on equality issues together with incidents of how he tackled corruption when he was a health minister.

His stand related to establishment of equal rights is something that all men in the country should realise. Just having a political change and establishment of a federal system is not enough for inclusion. If the constitution had not guaranteed the 33 per cent women representation in governance and executive powers of the country, there would not be women leaders in the two topmost positions of the municipalities all over. However, he stressed that men should get out of the psyche that “they” had put women there. It is the right of the women “who constitute more than 51 per cent of the population to be in decision making positions,” the octogenarian politician stressed. Why is it that that the minority group usually hold key position?

Pleasant experience
After the mundane atmosphere created by the pandemic, as rules have been relaxed by the government, it was a pleasant experience to visit Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha to interact with elected representatives from Tilottama (Rupandehi), Musikot (Gulmi), and Sunwal (Nawalparasi) municipalities of the Lumbini Province. During a two-day programme organised by Dayitwa, an organisation working on good governance and sustainable development, it was insightful to listen to the elected leaders’ experience during their first tenure in office.

“I have been convinced that women can do anything if they are given the opportunity,” said Kamala Gautam, the Deputy Mayor of Musikot Municipality, Gulmi. The Deputy Mayor position is a very important. It has the legal committee that does the judiciary role of the municipalities. “In the self-evaluation feedback from local authorities, the maximum feedback and appreciation has come for the judicial work,” she said.

Almost five years ago, elections of local bodies were held after decades. During that election, most of the village and town municipalities got elected women Deputy Mayors. At that time, there were rampant speculations that these elected Deputy Mayors would be failures. In contrary to this, in many municipalities the elected Deputy Mayors have actually shown exemplary work of enacting their judicial role effectively and efficiently. Gautam said that she had no legal expertise, but she put in place a good legal advisor and committee members. She was also successful in managing the budget that she had responsibility in co-ordination with the Mayor and other elected leaders.

This helped her in smoothly managing all the legal disputes that happened in her jurisdiction. These mainly included cases of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), land disputes, fights rising after alcohol abuse, sharing of irrigation canals and forest resources, among others. She said that she was encouraging the youth to join politics so they can develop their local area and have no need to migrate away in search of jobs. However, she lamented that the political parties were not putting enough efforts to attract the youth to get into politics and serve the nation. She also expressed that she detested the fact that men politician felt that they had put women in authoritative positions and thus the women needed to abide by their instructions.

Gautam has had to face her equal share of both domestic and professional work load burden, therefore, like many professional women who are in leadership she too has had to work more and sacrifice a lot of her personal time for politics, society and her family. Jageshwor Devi Choudhary, Deputy Mayor of Tilottama Municipality, Rupendehi of Lumbini Pradesh said that corruption issues are very scary and to deal with it one needs a strategy. She was a leading factor in making her municipality corruption free by “going cashless”. They have established a system where no cash transaction is done and in all of the 17 Wards in her Municipality money transaction was done online. All payment related to land, and house purchase, tax payment, etc. was carried out online decreasing loopholes of corruption.

Choudhary emphasised that in order to ensure the involvement and ownership of the people, she got them involved in making decisions, which greatly helped curb corruption. Leaders like Jageshwori feel that women have the capacity of carrying out their responsibilities but the commitment towards women by the different political parties are still not fulfilled. The 33 per cent representation of women in all different levels within the party hierarchy still needs to be fulfilled by many.

She also stressed on the fact that the constitution had guaranteed at least one position of either Mayor or Deputy Mayor to be woman. But that did not mean that it has to be the Deputy. Now as women like her have actually fulfilled their roles and responsibilities very well as Deputy Mayors, she hoped to be given ticket to contest for the Mayor position. Nepali women have shown their capacities to excel in any responsibilities they undertake. Now the time has come for the political parties to fulfill their commitment to equal rights and give tickets to able women to contest as Mayor in the upcoming local election.

(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate. namrata1964@yahoo.comTwitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)