This Bill is biased towards narrow-band of urban-based women, in terms of the government jobs, and fails to address much larger and more deprived rural-based women population.
By Chattra Bahadur
An Analysis. UWB received this article in email.
Within few weeks of popular uprising, the reinstated Parliament passed the Women Reservation Bill unanimously reserving 33% of the governmental positions to the women. According to the advocates and supporters of this Bill, this will ensure equality and remove imbalance between men and women, at least in terms of job opportunities in the government, in the long run. The more appropriate term at this juncture is ‘revolutionary’ in the context of male-dominated societal structure of Nepal. Unfortunately, this Bill is flawed in variety of ways.
The initiators and proponents of the Women Reservation Bill (represented by the politicians and members of the special-interest groups), either deliberately or unintentionally, did not provide any reservation to women in the Parliamentary seats, sub-committees of the Parliament and the working committees of the political parties. After all, they had proposed the Bill to make the decision-making more broad-based and more representative. As per the Parliament declaration, the Parliament is the highest decision-making body in the country. However, there is no reservation in the highest decision-making body itself or its sub-committees. Likewise, the Bill remains silent on the highest-decision making bodies of the political parties as well. And if there is no provision of minimum representation in the Parliamentary seats and decision-making bodies of the political parties, then the Bill lacks credibility. This Bill resembles a salesperson unwilling to use/lacking faith in the products s/he is selling. It only supports the theory of populist gimmickry on part of the political parties and the special-interest groups without any significant contribution to the actual cause. To make it credible, the political parties must practice what they preach and it must begin with their own parties and the Parliament.
The motivation behind the Bill was that women were marginalized and weaker section of the society, and they should be uplifted. It is the undeniable truth in the male-dominated societal structure of Nepal. It is also true that they must be uplifted. However, there are other equally marginalized sections of the society and are represented by various powerful NGO and support groups. If it is thought that women can be uplifted solely by providing reservations in the government jobs, then why not these sections of the society be uplifted by providing them reservation as well? This compelling question is bound to arise in due course of time. Though it may look ‘revolutionary’ to provide reservation to women at present, it has in fact created potentially uncontrollable area of fracas for future.
There are other equally marginalized sections of the society and are represented by various powerful NGO and support groups. If it is thought that women can be uplifted solely by providing reservations in the government jobs, then why not these sections of the society be uplifted by providing them reservation as well?
The earlier Constitution had explicitly defined that there can be no discrimination against any caste, creed, race, sex or religion. The new Constitution will also pronounce the same in the future when it will be announced. If this is the case, then men are discriminated against because of their sex. The women have to choice to compete for 100% of the job offer– either on the reserved or unreserved category depending on their choice- whereas men have to ‘compulsorily’ compete on 67% of the unreserved quota of the job offer. Of course, many will argue that by choosing to compete in one category, competing in another category is automatically eliminated. But the truth is that the men are not given any option to choose (involuntary choice) whereas women have option to choose. And the right to choose is the foremost principle of any democracy. When any Bill proposes to limit the right to choose and forced competition in one category on the basis of sex, it violates the fundamental right as a citizen of a country.
The members of the Parliament, in the name of being progressive, have taken the easiest way to provide perception of bringing in the ‘equality’ in the society by reserving 33% of the government jobs. The safe passage of the Bill, without adequate study or discussion, may please many urban-based votaries of the Bill. However, it fails to address the needs of rural-based women. According to the 2001 census, 50.6% of total population is female and 86% of total population resides in the rural areas. From this statistics, the population of rural women works out to be approximately 10 million, which is almost 45% of the total population. The rate of secondary level school dropout in the rural area is about 49% in average and the incidence of dropout amongst female population is very alarming. Thus, the need of the rural women is to access to educational system than the job guarantee through reservation. And if they do not have even access to educational system, how will they compete for these available positions in the government even when positions are reserved? The ultimate analysis justifies the ground that this Bill is biased towards narrow-band of urban-based women, in terms of the government jobs, and fails to address much larger and more deprived rural-based women population.
Instead, the members of the Parliament could have proposed Bill, for instance, making education mandatory for women. It could have proposed that the parents, the headmaster/principal of the school, and the elected local-representatives (ward chairperson and members of the ward) from various political parties to be jointly responsible for the education of all the girls of a particular ward (it can encompass boys as well) by sending them compulsorily to the school. If the joint-custodians fail to impart this responsibility, they should be held accountable for lapses. Secondly, they could have proposed Bill to open at least two government-supported technical schools to impart relevant skills to women in each district all over the country.
However, hackneyed views of ‘equality’ espoused by some special interest groups have ended up promulgation of Bill benefiting very few and leaving glaring gap for the target-group to whom it should have actually targeted.