Voices from grassroots politics
“A Woman politician has to either leave politics, or leave her husband.”
The above statement by Bhagwati Pudasaini says it all—it describes the plight of grassroots women politicians in Nepal. This describes how women politicians are deserted by family members and how much they have to struggle to come up and take the center stage. Gender empowerment of women who come from the lowest strata of society is generally ignored by the state level agencies. Their plight, their concern, their agenda and their problems are not addressed most of the times. It is not only the support that grassroots women politicians lack, they also lack the knowledge capital to better participate in national politics and get involved in decision–making.
Confronting them are many hurdles including lack of education, financial dependency, work status, gender insensitive political culture, societal obligations by virtue of their gender, and above all indifference from the state level agencies.
Everyone has a story to share, a story so inspiring that one will keep wondering over the courage that these brave women possess. Despite the struggles they face, grassroots women politicians have the audacity that could put to shame any women from mainstream politics. Ganga Devi, District Committee member of UML expressed that the problem lies with the women politicians themselves. They are not ready to believe in themselves. The moment women start believing in their abilities, they will be able to challenge themselves, push themselves, and break the boundaries.
Women’s involvement in politics can come with huge prices, says Sarita KC of Nepal Women’s Association, Chitwan. Citing the story of a women CA member, who had to divorce her husband after her involvement in politics, she said that the reason behind such a fate is the deeply embedded male dominated culture in the society. This is a testimony to the fact that women have to face violence as a result of their political affiliations. Women are barred from exercising their freedom, they are accused and they are humiliated for activities they never performed.
The important question is: Do women politicians, who reach at the top echelons of power to do something for the grassroots citizens? Do they ensure that women empowerment occurs at the grassroots level? Do women at the grassroots level become empowered after getting women leaders, in fundamental areas like economic participation and decision making, ownership of properties, access to resources, in issues related to women’s reproductive health and fertility choices and educational attainment, amongst other issues? As much as it is sad, they seem to forget the roots they come from, they forget the people who had supported the, and forget their responsibilities.
On looking closely, it can be seen that although political parties are involving women in their activities, it is true that they have weak women members in the party, someone who they can boss around. This is the face of invisible form of violence, a form that remains in obscurity. It is very important to have gender sensitization in order to have more women entering politics. Such sensitization should take place on a family level as well as societal level.
Gyanu Timilsina talked about the problems that the Terai women face including Child marriage to witchcraft. A woman never belongs to anyone—neither the parents, who await her marriage, nor the in-laws, for whom she always is the daughter-in-law, and neither in politics, which is again considered a male’s domain. The question is: Where do they belong to?
Parvati Rana, District Committee Member of the UML put it very right when she said that women politicians have to take care of the family affairs, and they have to take care of the state affairs. Grassroots women politicians have to make sacrifices—of their dignity, of their family members, and of their peace of mind. She was tortured and harassed on the pretense that she was a “Hill woman?” The question that she asked is reverberating and I am still looking for an answer: Where was the state when my clothes were torn apart? Where was the political party when my child was put in a sack and beaten mercilessly? Well, I don’t have the answers.
These women politicians have faced all the atrocities with the true spirit of a warrior. They have been harassed, they have been looked down upon, and they have been left to face the violence. Nothing of this has deterred them, and nothing will ever deter them. They understand that the path they have taken is not an easy to travel on and they truly believe in the cause they are endorsing. Mahamaya Devi Chaudhary, who was threatened times and again says that no matter how many more struggles lie ahead, she is not ready to give up. “I am the voice of the voiceless women. If men can do politics, why can’t women?” Women can of course do politics, and this is the spirit that inspires us and gives us the hope of a better tomorrow!
This article was written for the conference newsletter for the second regional conference on violence against women in politics: revisiting policies, politics and participation, held in Nepal from November16-17,2009