Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Women Prove Leadership Mettle

Mukti Rijal

Local governments are scheduled to receive a new contingent of elected leaders following the democratic polls to be held on May 13. One needs to admit the fact that the local elections that were held in 2017 had heralded a beginning of the process of significant social and political transformation in the country. It was marked by an inclusive and progressive induction of women and marginalised groups into the ranks of local government leadership. This was enabled by the provisions in the federal constitution and relevant laws which incorporate transformative potentials and game changing provisions. It is needless to repeat that federal constitution provisions for an inclusive and transformative architectures in political power structures, process and mechanism.

As a consequence, representation of women has increased not only at the local government institutions but across all levels. According to the Election Commission data, out of 36,639 elected local representatives, 14,356 have been women. This figure accounts for more than 40 per cent of the total elected officials. When this data is further disaggregated, women contribute to around 700 deputy mayors, seven mayors and eleven ward chairpersons at the local levels.

Similarly, around 33 per cent of legislators at federal and provincial levels are women. And this has opened the larger avenues for raising and orchestrating voices of women and make effective gender friendly interventions in policy-making forums and institutions across all levels. When taking stock of performance of women leadership at local level, we find that women mayors, deputy mayors and councilors have initiated to work rubbing shoulders with their male counterparts. Their role in delivering services and representing their constituents has also been rated to be appreciable to an extent. According to a newspaper report, women leaders have outstripped their male counterparts especially in upholding the values and standards of accountability, transparency and integrity which constitute the key elements of good governance. No woman executive in local government is indicted for reason of being indulged in corrupt practices. This has vindicated and provided an evidence of their mettle and acumen, righteous sense of leadership and commitment to deliver. Women's leadership accomplishments have opened meaningful avenues for raising their profile and making their role more dignified and respectful in policy-making forums and institutions.

The enhanced agency of women leaders in power structures, processes and mechanism has earned them a distinct place in the overall governance of the country. Judicial Committee at municipality and rural municipality level has helped to facilitate access to justice at the local level. These committees are coordinated by women deputy mayors in almost ninety per cent of local governments. This has offered an opportunity to further their leadership capacity and leverage interface between formal and informal justice mechanism at the local level.

There is no denying the fact that devolution of power premised upon by the principle of subsidiarity has helped to promote democracy and accountable governance at local level. This has spilled out and imparted substantive benefits to women and marginalised communities. This provision has also become instrumental in bringing decision making closer to the people and build partnership and give ownership of local institutions to women and marginalised communities. Participatory development has been made possible through greater representation and engagement of women and marginalised groups in local planning process as well.

However, critical issues are yet to be addressed despite the completion of almost five years since they were elected last. Local governments are still at their very formative stage. Though they have become functional in line with the new mandates, they not only lack adequate institutional infrastructures but also concomitant administrative apparatuses too. A casual review of the working of the elected women representatives for the last four and a half years shows that they are yet to fully understand and grasp the multi-pronged roles and obligations they have been entrusted to accomplish according to the constitution and laws.

Local governments have to perform executive, legislative and judicial functions similar to that of the provincial and federal governments but these functions and roles have not been properly internalised and successfully carried out. They have to provide stewardship to ensure that the delivery of public services is executed in an effective and inclusive manner. The constitution has specifically allocated 22 substantive functions to be carried out by the local government. These functions have been elaborated in concrete terms by the Local Government Operation Act, 2017. Moreover, the constitution lists 15 concurrent functions which have to be exercised in concurrence with federal and provincial governments. Health, education and agriculture are some of the critical sectors devolved as part of the mandate of local governments.

Capacity building
Apparatuses similar to federal and provincial level ministries have to be created at the local level which can be led and overseen, among others, by the elected women representatives as well. The upcoming local election is expected to give further boost to the increased representation of women and expands the scope of their leadership at the local level. However, taking cues from the experiences of almost five years, appropriate strategies need to be put in place to ensure that women and marginalised group leaders elected at the local level take leadership of the apparatuses as stated above and deliver in an efficient and effective manner. This underlines the need of serious and tailor-made capacity building of elected women representatives, among others, at the local level.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. rijalmukti@gmail.com)