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Thousands gather to promote marginalised women in politics

On 7 January, nearly 3000 people primarily from the Dalit community gathered in Kalaiya in the southern plains of Nepal to discuss and promote women’s active participation in politics, in order to overcome the massive discrimination still facing Dalit women.

The Joint Mechanism for Political Parties Strengthening (JOMPOPS) — DIPD’S local partner in Nepal — has been running a campaign on promoting women in politics since April 2013. As part of this campaign, JOMPOPS parties organize both multiparty and intraparty programmes at the central level as well as at the local level to promote participation/representation/recognition of women in politics.

In early January 2017, one of the JOMPOPS members, Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP), organized a mass public meeting to empower women from one of the most marginalized communities in Nepal: Dalit. The Dalit communities, treated as untouchables, are still socially discriminated and are considered among the most deprived in terms of access to resources and power.

According to a Dalit-based organization, almost half of Nepal’s Dalits live below the poverty line and their life expectancy and literacy rate are way below the national average. Despite constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination against Dalits, they continue to face multifaceted discriminations in practice, such as prohibition to enter into religious places or to touch water in public places.

Women from the Dalit community face additional discriminations, as they have been deprived from access to education, health and other resources. Often, it’s Dalit women who are victims of accusation of practicing witch-craft. Such women are often tortured and even killed. Last December, a Dalit woman called Laxmi Pariyar, near the capital Kathmandu, was beaten up, fed feces, and finally killed on accusation of witch-craft.

In this context, JOMPOPS Steering Committee member from the TMDP party, Jitendra Prasad Sonar, came up with a proposal to empower Dalit women to participate actively in politics so that they can influence the political process. DIPD decided to provide some technical support for the event in partnership with other local organizations.

Promoting women’s participation

On 7 January, nearly 3000 people including nearly 50 per cent women particularly from the Dalit community gathered in Kalaiya in Bara district in the southern plains of Nepal. TMDP President Mahanta Thakur was the chief guest of the programme and his presence gave a strong message for the importance of men to engage on women’s issues.

In addition to political speeches appealing women to participate actively in politics not just as voters but as leaders, two successful women leaders shared their personal journeys, talking about the key barriers they faced and the ways they overcome those barriers. The main objective of this sharing was to inspire Dalit women to strive for leadership positions.

Among the two key women speakers, one was Ms. Sheikh Chand Tara. Ms. Chand Tara is the former Chair of the National Women’s Commission, appointed from the quota given to the political parties.  Ms. Chand Tara emphasized on education and appealed to Dalit women to prioritize education. She also pointed out that gender equality is the cornerstone of overall economic prosperity.

Another speaker was a local woman community leader, Ms. Pinky Yadav. She shared her experiences and said that the situation for Dalit women has remained the same despite massive socio-political reforms in Nepal.  She concluded that Dalit women should come forward and take active participation in politics than just be voters.

In addition to sharing the personal stories by women leaders, the programme also focused on emphasizing the need for men to engage on empowerment of women. Both the Steering Committee members from JOMPOPS, Jitendra Prasad Sonar and Suresh Mandal, said that Dalit women should be empowered. They also spoke against the caste system and appealed to Dalit women to come forward without any hesitation.

Since very limited political party programmes focus on marginalized groups such as Dalit women, this programme generated a lot of enthusiasm among the Dalit women in the area, and which found expressions during the programme.

More information

Contact DIPD Country Coordinator in Nepal, Shristi Rana: shrishti@dipd.org.np

 

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