Nepal has undergone a significant social and political transformation following the promulgation of the federal constitution of Nepal 2015. The constitution has created three spheres of the government - federal, Pradesh and local level with significant devolution of the state authority to sub national levels. In fact, the constitution has transformative potentials and promises. It is aimed at bringing about inclusive and transformative changes in social and political power structures and process in the country. But in order to ensure that the constitution’s transformative potential is translated into action, leadership competence needs to be built and enhanced. Moreover, implementation of provisions relating to social justice and inclusion should be done at the earnest. This can build constructive interface between citizens and state.
Implementation of inclusive provisions will not only institutionalise democratic institutions but also enable citizens to exercise fundamental rights and entitlements. These days, some initiatives have been undertaken in building politically inclusive institutions in the country. Similarly, some activities to benefit marginalised groups and empower the women have also been implemented. In this regard, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) strategies can be mentioned. These intend to ensure that development programs benefit women, Dalits, marginalised groups in a non-discriminatory and equitable manner.
Democratic elections held in 2017 according to the constitution of Nepal 2015 has introduced a significant change in strengthening democratic governance in the country. Representation of women in public institutions at federal, Pradesh and local level has increased. A sizeable representation of women at federal and Pradesh legislatures can be attributed to the affirmative clauses in the constitution of Nepal. Around thirty three per cent of legislators at federal and Pradesh are women. And this has opened big avenues for raising voices of women and make effective interventions in policy making forum and institutions. Today mayors, deputy mayors and councillors elected at the local government institutions are active. Their role in delivering services and representing their constituents in some local government is found to be effective and appreciable .This has vindicated their leadership mettle and acumen to some extent
The constitutional arrangement for representation of women has opened windows of opportunities for their political advancement and development. It has strengthened their agency in power structures, processes and mechanisms. Formation of Judicial Committee at Municipality (Nagarpalika) and Rural Municipality (Gaunpalika) according to the Article 217 of the constitution has helped to facilitate access to justice at the local level. Judicial Committees are coordinated by women deputy mayors in almost ninety per cent of local government. This heralds a historical opportunity to build their leadership capacity and leverage interface between formal and informal justice mechanism at the local level.
Devolution of power through constitutional provision has helped to promote democracy and accountable governance at local level. This has benefitted women and marginalised groups. It has provided an institutional framework to bring decision making closer to the people and build partnership of local institutions with women and marginalised communities. This has also helped in ushering participatory development through greater representation and engagement of women and marginalised groups in planning process. Furthermore, transfer of authority and resources to local government to design and implement policies and programs enhances opportunities for women and marginalised groups to actively engage in the process of decision making.
However, this is easier said than done. Local governments envisioned as inclusive and participatory institutions are at their very formative stage yet. Though they have become functional these days, they not only lack adequate institutional infrastructures but also concomitant administrative apparatuses too. Elected local leaders, on top of that the elected women representatives, are yet to fully understand and grasp the multi-pronged roles and obligations they have to undertake according to the constitution.
Moreover, the local governments are required to perform executive, legislative and judicial functions similar to the Pradesh and federal government. These functions and roles have to be clearly internalised. Scope of functions enshrined in the constitutions and statutes have to be grasped operationally by the elected leadership at the local level. They have to provide stewardship to ensure that delivery of public services is executed in an effective and inclusive manner. Though almost more than half of the tenure of the elected leaders has already elapsed, there has been no such concrete and well planned strategies to build capacity of elected local leaders in general and women leaders in particular.
Federal constitution has specifically allocated 22 substantive functions to the local government. These functions have been further subdivided into over 222 activities. Moreover, the constitution lists 15 shared functions which have to be exercised in concurrence with federal and Pradesh government. All these have entrusted onerous responsibilities to the local government leaders, of which around forty per cent are women both as local executives and legislatures. Health, education and agriculture are some of the key and critical sectors devolved upon the local governments. For example, education up to higher secondary level has to be managed and governed by local government.
Apparatuses similar to federal and Pradesh level ministries have to be created at the local level which can be led and overseen by the elected women representatives as well. This underlines the need for capacity building of the elected leaders in general and elected women representatives in particular. Most importantly women leaders should be effective to demonstrate that they can work and prove they deliver better leadership competence and productive results.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)