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Political participation has been defined as the process of any voluntary action, successful or unsuccessful, organised or unorganised, episodic or continuous, employing legitimate or illegitimate methods, and intended to influence the choice of political leaders at any level of government, local or national (Winer and Chowdhury, 1995).1 Spontaneous participation of all citizens in the political processes and institutions of a country is the key factor for fostering democracy. Political participation can be in formal politics or informal politics or, in the case of women, in what can be designated as ‘everyday’ politics. There is little agreement on a common definition of political participation of women. In the course of time and space, the political participation of women has taken different forms that helped shape political culture. For the purposes of this paper, politics is understood in terms of allocation and distribution of power. It is the exercise of power in the public realm, through government structures, electoral politics and activities in the space occupied by the State. The State is a privileged institution in the political sphere. The modern State, in particular, has been portrayed as a body that mediates the power relations that criss-cross civil society, while, at the same time, representing some higher consensus, which is manifested in its authoritative provision of law and in its monopoly of coercive power. However, a different perspective emerges from Kate Millet in her work, Sexual Politics. She redefines politics by shifting its focus away from activities taking place within established government structures to relationships based on power, whereby one group of persons controls another (Millet, 1972).2 Over the years, the women’s movement has defined politics as a collective endeavour for social transformation. Political participation in one form or the other has always existed in society, and interested individuals and groups have made their wishes and complaints known, directly or indirectly, to administrators at various levels of government. However, with changing times and the changing role of the State, the meaning of participation has altered. The expansion of government has widened the nature and awareness of participation. Today, participation is understood to mean the close involvement of people in the economic, social, cultural and political processes that affect their lives. In some cases, the people may have direct control over these processes, while, in other cases, the control may be partial or indirect. However, the important point is that people have constant access to decision-making. Many of these issues come into sharp focus in the context of South Asia, a region of conflicting and paradoxical complexities. Across South Asia can be observed a common trend of attempts to institutionalise women’s participation in politics by legal and affirmative measures, which then get manifested in actions taken by the State or political parties. This paper attempts to discuss the political participation of women in the countries of the region, both historically and contemporaneously, with a particular focus on the formal participation of women in politics, both as voters and as elected members.
The Context of South Asia South Asian nations share certain predominant features: centralised governments; socioeconomic inequalities based on class, gender and caste; and nationalistic divisive claims on grounds of ethnicity, language and religion. India and Sri Lanka have remained democracies for the past 50 years, while Bangladesh and Pakistan have been swinging between democracy, militarism and autocracy. Nepal has passed from democracy to absolute monarchy and back to democracy. In a region of rich diversity—a mosaic of cultural heritage challenged by the problems of poverty, illiteracy, health, gender imbalance and religious fundamentalism—South Asian women have borne the greatest burden of poverty, deprivation, illiteracy and morbidity. They have also been the major victims of violence. Yet, contradictorily enough, it is also South Asia that has mobilised thousands of women through grass-roots initiatives in rural areas, as in the example of the Grameen Bank project in Bangladesh. The issues that engage South Asian women politically are familiar to women elsewhere. These include resistance to militarism, the desire to become equal partners in new democracies, and a frustration about women’s lack of representation in economic development programmes. Women’s participation in political and social movements is evident in South Asia, as they have played important roles in mass mobilisation, and supportive roles in enabling the male leadership to remain in the forefront of political struggles. Male dominance in the formal political systems of South Asia is universal, but the degree of dominance may vary from country to country or regime to regime. Even when women do become a part of the formal political process as members of elite political groups, they are usually assigned to soft portfolios ‘appropriate’ for women’s concerns. The many barriers to political participation that South Asian women face exist at different levels, both formal and informal, and they arise from socio-cultural values and practices that are firmly entrenched in systems and structures of society. By and large, in the entire Indian subcontinent, women who interact outside prescribed relations are viewed with suspicion. The family still regards its female members as weak and in need of protection throughout their lives. It is a popular perception that politics is a ‘dirty game’ not meant for women. The institution of purdah (the practice of screening women from strangers by means of a veil or curtain) is widespread across Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in the northern regions of India. Purdah sharply demarcates and divides public and private spheres, in such a way that the former (in which are located economic and political power) are designated as male domains, and the latter, female. Purdah and rigidly defined sex roles have also contributed to the low levels of female literacy, work participation and education. Combined with patriarchal structures, purdah has undermined women’s access to traditional forums of adjudication and decision-making, like panchayats, jirgas, etc., on the one hand, and has become an obstacle for women’s entry into formal electoral politics, on the other. Affirmative measures have ameliorated the situation to some extent. Illiteracy further limits women’s participation. The female literacy rate in South Asia, with the exception of Sri Lanka, is much lower than the male. But even beyond basic literacy, information about political processes–for example, which levels of government to access for policies that respond to women’s interests, or even how and where to vote– is often difficult for women to obtain. Trade unions, political parties and other
and domination by the bureaucracy and military of West Pakistan. rather than compete with men in grabbing power. and promote her role as wife and mother. challenge the authority of men. throughout the region.organisations—the most common sources of such information—are virtually inaccessible to most women. In 1947. Bangladesh was born to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of the people. to feminise it by bringing in the spirit of selfless sacrifice. the British confiscation of their land (which was their means of livelihood). more importantly. While he wanted a vanguard role for women in the freedom movement. the social movement to reform traditional structures. women participated alongside men in `famine revolts' in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Priority is given to economic development rather than social sectors. and became an independent State in 1947. budgetary allocations for women's programmes are insufficient. where women’s representation is too small to make a significant impact. Bengal became East Pakistan. spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi. He wanted women to cleanse politics. The marriage with West Pakistan proved incompatible over issues ranging from language to economic exploitation of the east wing. and the other. neighbours and community leaders. These attitudes permeate policy-making bodies. as well as rural and urban differences. its impact on the character and purpose of their engagement was very different. In 1971. Rather. There are broad regional variations. India then encompassed today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh. and thus prove their moral 3 . with regard to women’s opportunities and access to resources. was instrumental in bringing women in large numbers into the public space. Non-elite women fought against the British colonialists. with the end of British colonial rule and partition from India. Although British imperialism profoundly influenced the political engagement of both elite and non-elite women during this period. Women’s Political Struggle in South Asia: A Shared History India was under British colonial rule for approximately 200 years. and other revolts in the 19th century. Gandhi played a crucial role in creating a favourable atmosphere for women’s participation in the freedom struggle by insisting that the struggle for women’s equality was an integral part of the movement of swaraj. One was the political movement of challenge and resistance to British colonialism. or devote time and resources to political activism. Moved by the hunger of their children. Indian women’s involvement in politics started in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But. Development policies and. two important movements characterised South Asia. women operate within fairly stringent manifestations of patriarchal structures and attitudes that devalue women’s remunerated work. and oppressive taxes. devoted social workers to undertake the crucial task of social reconstruction. Gandhi did not encourage women to compete for power. Historically. Violence against women further restricts their political activity. Where women raise their voices. they often risk provoking the violent anger of male relatives. The national movement against British colonial rule in undivided India. His choice of non-violent satyagraha as the mode of struggle also allowed women to play a far more active and creative role than was possible in more masculine-oriented movements. he wanted them to enter public life as selfless. Ethnic and religious violence further exacerbates the situation.
objects of their emancipatory efforts. as is clear from the examples of women’s political struggles around a variety of issues in the countries of the region. women were. revivalist and radical streams. the civil disobedience movement of January 1947 mobilised even the Pathan women. Consisting of reformist. Muslim women were organising funds for the Pakistan movement. By 1947. formed by the Pathans. Muslim women organised and held demonstrations to prevent the government’s refusal to allow the Muslim League to form a ministry. Instead. These campaigns succeeded in breaking the myth of segregation. at first. In Pakistan. They marched in support of the movement. Gandhi. played a vital role in attempting to feminise the nationalist movement in India. therefore. It also spearheaded constitutional reforms and other provisions for women. created a political space for women within the patriarchal system. the basic understanding of the national movement’s leaders on women’s issues continued to be filtered through the existing patriarchal system. in which women helped run an underground radio station until independence. However. in restraining unbridled ambition and accumulation of property. and her advent to public life should. therefore. in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. the AIWC played a critical role during the freedom struggle. most of these activities were confined to Lahore and Karachi. Yet. was very conscious of the power that women could have in a struggle based on the concept of non-cooperation. and embodying virtues of sacrifice and suffering. Women of India participated in demonstrations such as the all-night dharnas of 1930 against foreign cloth. They also articulated liberal sentiments like suffrage rights. therefore. The leading South Asian social and religious reformers in the 19 th century were males. 1980)3. considered the most conservative in the subcontinent. result in purifying it. That same year. they became more and more subjects in the political and social spheres (Mies. Violence was used against the women demonstrators. publicly unveiled for the first time. fighting oppression on the streets. “Women are the embodiment of sacrifice. In the process.” Gandhi. Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz and Begum Shaista Ikramullah. But. and helped women systematically articulate their political rights in public forums. projecting the concept of women’s role being complementary to men's. the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) was formed in 1927 through an amalgamation of various regional women’s groups. the values and views that he espoused influenced and shaped the women’s movement in the early phase of independence of the other nations of the region. He stressed the importance of their participation in political and social matters. the rallying cause was the Muslim homeland. whose principal objective was to cleanse and reinforce family life. and exhorted them to join the nationalist struggle. and addressing issues such as education. two Muslim women. were elected to the Central Constituent Assembly. and in selling `the salt of freedom' during the salt satyagraha. The women 4 . To advocate women’s equality and their right to participate in nationalist politics. in the 1946 election. In Gandhi’s view. The most interesting form of political participation was the secret organisation called the War Council. For those early pioneers.superiority even in the realm of politics. however. Gandhi. and they were arrested as well. The greatest numbers of women were not mobilised around issues relating to women’s rights or their political and legal status. Initially.
which was started as a counter to the sale of poppies to assist British soldiers. which granted voting rights to the provincial assemblies. In 1960. In 1917. 1991). and a variety of women’s organisations emerged. women’s wings of political parties raised the issue of women’s suffrage. The Suriyamal campaign. In protest against the undemocratic royal proclamation of 1960. several women’s organisations were born to raise the political and social consciousness among women in Nepal. the provincial education minister. He stipulated a one-year period to enrol the requisite number of students. Later. when Lord Montague discussed Indian demands for political representation. the fight for women’s suffrage was a long-drawn one. like the Mothers’ Union. but 5 . the Government of India Act was passed in 1919. These rights were not donated to women by male leaders. The debate about women’s voting rights go back to the early part of the last century. They succeeded. women entered radical politics. decided to close down the girls’ schools. as there were not enough teachers and students. The women of these organisations continued to take part in active politics as members of parliament and cabinet ministers. which spearheaded activities against British imperialism. Women of various regions and ideologies contributed greatly to the success of this movement. otherwise. the Women’s Franchise Union. In Bangladesh. the Act was extended to allow women to participate in elections to the Central Assembly (Mies. Jobeda and a few other dedicated women then began a door-to-door campaign in search of students. Women. In 1935. They became vocal and visible. property and education. They rose against the Rana regime. the people of Nepal were greatly influenced by India’s freedom struggle against British colonial rule. the college would be closed down. It was the first autonomous socialist women’s group in Sri Lanka. the Ceylon Women’s Union. the first Muslim woman politician of East Pakistan. and were imprisoned (Rahaman and Kamal. albeit based on wifehood. democratic system. the Women’s Political Union and the Lanka Mahila Samiti. resisted the closure of Sylhet Women’s College. Women’s Suffrage in South Asia: The State. In Sri Lanka. Abdul Hamid.believed that the newly created government would automatically expand women’s rights and open avenues for their participation at all levels. the Community and the Family In South Asia. With the support of two national political parties. which had suppressed the growing people’s movement for democracy. a group of women openly waved black flags in a public procession. She sought an interview with the minister on this matter. and the course of its articulation acquired a very urban and elitist character in undivided India. was the training ground for the rise of the leftwing socialist movement in Sri Lanka. and from 1947 until 1952. several movements characterised the fight against British rule. This put a sudden end to all associations and their activities. For the first time. Women started coming together. The formation of the Eksath Kantha Peramuna (the United Women’s Front) was another great event in the political history of the country. This party asserted its socialist policies in its declaration seeking changes in the fundamental structure of society. however. In the 1940s. the erstwhile Ceylon. and the college remained open. 1980). the King of Nepal subverted the democratic panchayat system to an autocratic one. in the people’s movement of 1989. Jobeda Khatun Chowdhury. remained politically active. women actively participated to get rid of the autocratic panchayat system and to usher in a multiparty.
I agreed. their battles have moved to the family and the community. who is now a videographer of Banchte Sheka. The Ceylon National Congress formed the Women’s Franchise Union to demand universal adult suffrage. despite South Asian women's long history of struggle to win suffrage from the State. In 1996. Therefore. a rural woman from Maharashtra. 5. and engaged in other forms of political activity.” recalls Bulu.000 women voted under this arrangement. when the country was still a colony of Britain. a woman had to have one of these attributes: be a tax payer.600. were actively supported and encouraged by their husbands and sons. The class character of women also had a bearing on women’s suffrage in Sri Lanka. since that period. Women in modern Bangladesh first gained the right to vote in the Calcutta municipal elections. I voted for whom I wanted. Women’s advocacy came mainly from the upper echelons of society. I wanted to cast my vote in favour of the candidate I thought best. tied me and locked me up with the cows in the cattle shed for 24 hours. in the 1970 national election. an owner of property worth Rs 5. But. the Nepal Women’s Association mobilised women to fight for women’s suffrage during the first election in 1948. be at least 21 years old. be literate enough to be able to write her own application for registration.000 women voters were barred from exercising their franchise by a fatwa (religious edict) from religious leaders in Feni constituency. where decisions are made by the men. special enfranchisement provisions were made. under the Government of India Act (1936). stories of subversion by women. when I went to vote.000. The women who were instrumental in forming the Franchise Union were all from aristocratic families and. In the 1946 election. or be the wife of a voter. from those who had a close rapport with the leaders of the Indian national movement. When my husband asked me. and restricted voting privileges to urban women.” says Ramkali. without food. a survivor and fighter. as recently as 1991. Bulu is one among the millions of women who have to struggle within the family and the community. When I disagreed. To vote. very few women qualified as voters. they were not encouraged to run for office. However. 6 . Rural women acquired the right to vote in local government elections as late as 1956. Election-related violence is another factor that prevent more women from exercising their franchise. In Nepal. women of Sri Lanka have had equal political rights alongside men. “My husband wanted me to vote for a candidate of his choice. exercised their votes. he threatened to beat me up. an NGO in Bangladesh. I told him I had voted for his candidate. In Bangladesh. my husband beat me. and universal franchise was introduced in 1931. a woman from Jessore in rural Bangladesh. India. This arrangement did not provide for universal adult franchise. The urban and class bias of the Act that granted women suffrage was evident even a decade later. Around 6. emphasises the struggles women wage to exercise the right to vote for a candidate of their choice. Though they had the right to vote. the fatwa was passed in other constituencies too. However. As a result of their efforts.arose spontaneously as demands from the women themselves. interestingly. “When. Women have. thanks to the secret ballot.
the percentage of successful women candidates has not altered much.2 7 .Women’s Representation in Formal Political Institutions South Asia presents a unique paradox. Women’s representation in the Rajya Sabha. with the exception of Nepal. however.5 per cent in 1991. Although the constitution of India guarantees equal political rights to women under Articles 15 (1) and 15 (3). Almost every country in the region. increased from 7. is a major decision-maker that charts the socio-economic and political lives of the people of India. of women elected contested --45 70 67 86 22 27 34 31 22 Percentage to the total 4.1 per cent in 1985-90. as Table 1 indicates. In the case of India. as a wife or a daughter. to date. representation of women in parliament is very low.4 6. they are unable to encourage women to formally institutionalise their participation. The high visibility of women leaders is fully matched by the invisibility of women representatives in the national assemblies. has ranged from a low of 3. is a part of the common patriarchal legacy of South Asia. Similar instances can be cited for other Indian political parties as well. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have had the unique distinction of two women leaders in the course of their political history. With 545 members from across the country. has had a woman leader at its helm at some point in time. or the lower house of parliament. and offering limited options to the others for contesting elections. She observed that. the number of women leaders at different levels in the Congress party alone outnumbered those found in all parties put together today.4 5. This is in stark contrast to the dwindling numbers of women who are elected to national parliaments and legislatures during each election. the Lok Sabha. The same is true with women leaders of South Asia.7 per cent in 1952 to 15. The marginalisation of Indian women in politics over the decades is evident from the example of one political party. This apparent paradox can be explained in terms of a unique phenomenon termed as `over-the-dead-body syndrome' by Diane Kincaid. A woman leader derives her legitimacy for leadership from being a close relative of a dead leader. While all parties claim to be vehicles of social equity. or the upper house of parliament has. a phenomenon unparalleled in other regions of the world.4 per cent in 1979-80 to 8. Table 1 Lok Sabha First Second Third Fourth Fifth Representation of Women in the Lok Sabha Total Seats 499 500 503 523 521 No. American women legislators assumed political roles after the deaths of their husbands. This phenomenon of catapulting women as leaders from `dynastic' families. since 1950. the proportion of women members in the Lok Sabha. During the 1930s and 1940s. a land of one billion people and the world’s largest democracy.7 5. Subsequently. of women who No. between 1920 and 1970.9 4.
Women’s representation in legislative bodies peaked in 1988-90. Parliament Assembly of Bangladesh Members in the National The position of women in Bangladesh’s political parties. In the case of Bangladesh. though only one was successful. and. with one additional woman being elected on a seat reserved for minorities.8 Source: Press Information Bureau. there were 22 women in the National Assembly of 200 members.1 8. Pakistan also elected its first woman prime minister during that period.4 5. The situation in 1995 was hardly better. a cursory look at the present National Assembly reflects women’s position. women’s representation dropped to two and three women respectively in the National and Provincial Assemblies.Sixth Seventh Eight Ninth Tenth Eleventh Twelfth 544 544 544 517 544 544 544 70 142 164 198 325 599 271 19 28 44 27 39 39* 48* 3.18 7.18 8. in 1985. with four women sitting in the National Assembly and an equal number in the Provincial Assemblies. raising their total number to 24. Only seven women were elected directly. in 1988. when four women successfully contested in general seats. Graph 1. Table 2: Women’s Position in Political Parties Name of party Awami League Awami League Muslim League (Sabur) BNP Party Organ Presidium & Secretariat Working Committee Central Executive National Standing Committee 8 Total Incumbents 23 27 11 11 Female Incumbents 4 Nil 3 1 . In the absence of this enabling provision. in a parliament of 330 members. 1998 In the case of Pakistan.1 5. However. of both the rightwing and leftwing ideology. has not been encouraging. and the elections saw a peak in the number of women contesting provincial seats (19). in 1990. Government of India.2 7. 30 women occupied seats through nominations based on the constitutional provision of reservation. in addition to the 20 reserved seats. with disastrous consequences for women in legislative bodies. the provision for reserved seats for women lapsed.
Bangladesh Nationalist (BNP) Party Jobs would be ensured for women as per their qualifications. these are nominated ones. Source: Centre for Analysis and Choice (CAC). there was only one female minister. Jamaat-e Islami (JI) Socio-economic condition of women to be improved. Table 3 Election manifestos of major political summarised form for the 12 June 1996 elections Manifesto Topics Women’s Development Awami League (AL) Necessary policies and programmes will be taken up to establish women’s rights and their dignity in every tier of society. eight (5. In the 25-member panchayat cabinet that was dissolved on 8 April 1990. Repression of women would be checked. Very few women attained positions of office in panchayat institutions. Women in Politics in Bangladesh. 1995 The election manifestos of Bangladesh's major political parties do not incorporate any comprehensive programmes to ensure and encourage women’s participation in politics. The other political parties remained ambivalent on women in politics. Ministry of Social Welfare and Women’s Affairs. parties in Jatiya Party Special measures for women’s rights would be initiated. In the case of Nepal. women’s access to positions of power in executive bodies and the courts has been limited. Government of Bangladesh.7 per cent) were women. the major political parties gave election tickets to only three or four women candidates.BNP CPB Democratic League JCD UPP National Executive Central Committee Central Committee Central Committee Executive Committee 114 34 61 59 24 14 Nil 5 1 Nil Source: Najma Chowdhury. who held the health portfolio. 9 . Only the Jamaat-e-Islami clearly stated that women could not contest in elections. Of the 140 members in the outgoing national panchayat. and they would be allowed to earn their living as per the shariat. Though they hold positions in the party. Employment opportunities to be increased. 1996 In both the 1991 and 1996 elections. but merely carried small statements on women and development. The manifestos of the political parties did not explicitly deal with women and their issues or concerns. Empowerment of women to be continued.
the final list of the 1.345 candidates included only 81 women (6. seven were women—five from the Nepali Congress Party and two from the UMI (Table 5).3 per cent in 1997. 25 per cent of those women who stood for elections won. Table 4 Male Female Total Nepal 1991 Election: Number of Candidates National Percentage 1264 81 1345 93.4 100 District 2112 7 2119 Percentage 99.3 per cent and 0.1 per cent. At the national level. in provincial councils (which have just completed their five-year term).5 3.9 per cent respectively.5 100 Source: Durga Ghimere. while the United Marxist-Leninist (UML) party included only nine women among its 177 candidates. although women constituted a negligible percentage of candidates. from 2. At the district level. 1991 In Sri-Lanka.4 per cent in 1991 to 1. 10 per cent of the women candidates were elected.662 Percentage 99.5 0. within the national parliament.6 per cent in 1971 to 1. there was a 100 per cent victory for women. and in the pradeshiya sabha.4 0. 3. At present.1 per cent in 1997. from 1. an interesting picture emerges. In fact.6 per cent).3 100 Village 101. the high literacy and education status of women has made little difference to their representation in institutions of governance. from 2. three women were also nominated to fill the quota.421 241 44. in urban councils.0 per cent in 1997.546 956 102502 Percentage 99.1 per cent in the pradeshiya sabha. the Nepali Congress Party had 11 women among its 204 candidates. In municipal bodies it came down to 2. The results declared showed that of the 205 candidates elected. there is a consistent decline in women’s representation. There is a glaring gender disparity at all levels. as shown in Table 4. Male Female Total Nepal 1991 Election: Number of Candidates Elected National 198 7 205 Percentage 96. with all seven women winning.In the May 1991 election to the House of Representatives. Comparing Tables 4 and 5 to ascertain the percentage of women candidates returned in the elections. At the village level. and in local authorities. in local municipal councils. The 1997 local government elections showed a drop in female participation since 1991. the representation of women in the national parliament is 4.9 per cent in 1991.1 0.6 6.6 100 Village 44. Since the constitution requires that women make up five per cent of the upper house.9 100 Table 5. urban councils and pradeshiya sabhas.7 0. At the district and village level. In the case of the two leading parties. the percentage of women candidates was a dismal 0. only 1.5 100 District 1067 7 1074 Percentage 99.9 per cent. at the last elections held in 1997. 10 .
Among them is a low priority accorded by political parties to women’s candidature. In India. But the escalation of violence. Except for Sirimavo Bandaranaika and Chandrika Kumaranatunga. the Bill has been subject to acrimonious debate in the parliament and subverted by physical and other means from being passed. It states that women can vote. We will now examine the affirmative measures in South Asia for increasing women’s participation. This situation is consistent throughout South Asia. The constitutional provision in Pakistan elapsed in 1988. An examination of the statistical records of the Department of Elections reveals the small percentage of women candidates who contested both at the national level and in local government elections.7 in 1994.9. Legislative Reforms and Affirmative Measures: The Case of Quotas and Reservations All the countries in South Asia have initiated legislative reforms and undertaken affirmative measures for women’s inclusion in politics at various levels. various government initiatives have tried to promote women’s political participation. Though the percentage in the general elections increased to 3. 11 . the 81st Amendment Bill. respectively. has been through a tempestuous history and is yet to be passed. which proposed the reservation of one-third seats for women in the parliament and State assemblies. In 1977 it was 7. it dropped to 2. women’s organisations appealed to political parties to field a minimum number of women candidates and to include women’s issues in their manifestos. witnessed at recent elections.7 per cent women ministers. both at the national and grass-roots levels. from the national to the grass roots. While women form a sizeable proportion of members of political parties across the spectrum of right. albeit amidst some fluctuations. they are mostly absent from party leadership and `ghettoised' into women’s wings of the parties. Though political parties do have women’s wings. Since independence.During the recent provincial council elections in Sri Lanka. just 3. promulgated in 1990. Several reasons account for the low representation of women in South Asia's national political bodies. women’s presence in Sri Lanka’s parliamentary politics has been low. who headed political parties after their husbands were assassinated and who are at present in power as prime minister and president respectively. Due to these structural impediments.7 per cent. centrist and left.2 in 1989. These included the introduction of a quota of reserved seats for women in public office.4 and 1. and in 1989. compete in local and national elections. is the number of women ministers in the cabinet. The only visible improvement.1 per cent. or at least ensure that women are not entirely excluded from political structures. no woman has headed a Sri Lankan political party. Over the last few years. The new constitution of Nepal. while the present cabinet has 13. Pakistan’s National Assembly and Bangladesh’s Parliament have experimented with a system of reservation for women through indirect elections. provided women with equal political rights. few nominate women to contest elections. These figures have not improved. In 1970 and in 1977. A section of parliamentarians who oppose this Bill. They differ vastly from one country to the other and present a variety of experiences for women. At the national level. the percentage of women was 3. kept women away from politics. while it is continuing in Bangladesh. base their objections on the provision of blanket reservation for women without ensuring representation of women from socially backward groups.
However. However. the ministry’s proposal to ensure 25 seats for women through elections has been welcomed in the parliament. 1991). This principle of indirect elections (Mumtaz. including those of association. For example. at all levels. paving the way for 20 women to be indirectly elected. Bangladesh and Nepal. would make it imperative for parties to include women in their nomination lists. The only provision added to appease women is the article on election rules (Article 114). the ministry of women’s affairs has taken an initiative to increase the level of women’s participation in local and national bodies. The constitution now requires that women amount to at least five per cent of the candidates fielded by each political party in the elections for the House of Representatives. 1989) continued. He mandated deputies of national and provincial assemblies (mostly men) to elect the women representatives. Women voters enjoyed a double franchise to exercise their choice for the general as well as the reservedseat women candidates. At the grass-roots level. General Ayub Khan changed the procedure for electing women from a direct to an indirect one in 1962. Direct elections to the general seats have become a male privilege. constitutional provisions have ensured reservation for women in India. and support and adopt any political ideology. the constitutional amendments for this provision have been altered according to the whims of the leaders at different points of time. Women were provided with reservation to ensure a minimum representation in parliament and to give them a wider participation in national 12 . Article 65(3) provides for reserved seats for women in the parliament or Jatiya Sangsad. Such a quota. The intention of the present government. In 1989. To this end. it was doubled to 10 per cent only for the National Assembly. this provision lapsed in 1988. and to provide for seven seats for women in the National Assembly. as announced in its proposals for constitutional reform. and 3 per cent seats were allocated for women through elections.involve in political parties. but the reserved seats were increased to 5 per cent in 1973. is the introduction of a quota of 25 per cent for women in local government elections. The constitution of Bangladesh provides for formal political equality of men and women. in both the National and provincial assemblies for a period of ten years. the bill has not been passed. reservation for women’s representation in the National Assembly goes back to 1956. In 1984. a bill was moved in the Cabinet. In the first two elections of Bangladesh. assembly. Article 9 promotes the special representation of women in local government. in 1973 and 1979. the reservation provision ended up in women being nominated to the parliament. Women are entitled to the same fundamental rights as men. In Sri Lanka. A decade and several governments later. In India. to date. speech and expression. In 1990. which form the basis of political activity in a civil society (Rahman and Kamal. Reservations at the National Level Elections by Nomination: Case of Pakistan and Bangladesh In Pakistan. there is a 33 per cent reservation for women through direct elections to panchayats or local-level self-governance institutions that function in almost every State. seeking consensus for extending the provisions in the Constitution for reserved seats for women. constitutional provisions were introduced that made it mandatory to nominate at least five per cent of women candidates for the House of Representatives.
In 1990. which ratified martial law and all actions under it. This amendment reintroduced 30 reserved seats for women in parliament. 30 candidates nominated and seconded by 151 MPs would be considered elected. electoral investments. Several ideas were floated during this time. taking his party's total to 183. However. The majority party nominates 30 women candidates. the Tenth Amendment to the constitution re-inserted Clause (3) to Article 65. other parties do not bother to nominate anybody. 13 . the Awami League. President Ershad desperately needed to bring a constitutional amendment to ratify his illegal usurpation of power from a legally constituted government. To do this. the Jatiya Party. That is. as well as the risk of. The present provision is that the members of parliament elect candidates for the 30 reserved seats. In other words. However. the provision for reserved seats for women has ended up as a pawn in the hands of politicians. was introduced in the second session of the third parliament. President Ershad’s party. the Seventh Amendment. But the results showed a hung parliament. and the amendment was passed by 223 votes to nil. the party that can muster 151 votes can take the 30 additional seats. President Ershad was so paranoid about winning the 30 women seats that he did not trust even his own party members in voting for the party women candidates. with the main opposition party. He promulgated a special ordinance (No. because it eliminated the need for. President Ershad’s Tenth Amendment of the constitution was his gift to the future parliament. the beneficiary being the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) in 1991 and the Awami League (AL) in 1996. indirect election for the reserved seats found support among a section of women politicians as well. and the wrongs and arbitrariness of four years of martial law. which said that if the returning officer receives a nomination paper proposed and seconded by more than half of the eligible voters (MPs). and establishing quotas for women nominated by the party to run for general seats. President Ershad dissolved Bangladesh's parliament in 1986. in a 330-member parliament. this rose to 215. threatening to take over by mustering support from other political blocs and the independents. As it happened. to counter opposition moves to destabilise the government. However. Given the party positions then. he would have needed 200 votes in a normal 300member parliament. The nomination process and the electoral principle of reserved seats for women render women’s participation in the legislature dependent on the patronage of the male elite in the party in power. on 10 November 1986. amidst an opposition boycott. it would have been difficult to win the required majority. Reservation also undermines women’s representative status (Rahaman and Kamal. President Ershad took all the 30 women seats. XLVII of 1986). the candidate would be declared automatically elected.politics. as the following case of President Hussain Mohammad Ershad indicates. With additional support from the independents. This only accentuates women’s dependence and subordination in the political sphere. In practice. In the election to the third parliament. providing for 30 reserved seats for a further period of 10 years from the first sitting of the next parliament. won 153 of the 300 parliamentary seats. without an actual election being held. The session lasted just five hours. 1991). and since the election to these seats is seen as a foregone conclusion. both political and material. just five short of the 220 votes needed for an amendment. this means that the winner takes all. Among them were the abolition of indirect election of women representatives and filling the reserved seats by direct election from territorial constituencies.
they are taken less seriously by their directly elected colleagues. Today. More effective would be an amendment of the constitution to introduce a quota for nomination of women candidates by political parties. Bangladesh and Nepal India In April 1993. 14 . the BNP formed a government. personified by the then prime minister. This has led to an incremental. That is why. Reservation at the Local Level: The Case of India. at the intermediary block level and at the village level. with commensurate public and political roles. at the district level. In addition. who regard them more as a `vote bank'. they have few links with it. as Bangladesh’s women themselves have no role in their election. In fact. the AL repeated the performance. As these women members of parliament have not gone through a competitive election process. The women’s movement has been questioning the role of the women MPs. The panchayat raj is basically a three-tier structure for local-level self-governance in the States of India. a distortion of the concept of democracy. there is no accountability. A mandatory 10 per cent provision would make a big difference in women’s political participation. despite a decade’s lobbying and advocacy by women’s groups. with a 32 per cent share of the votes on its own ticket. It was helped by the `winner takes all' method of electing the 30 additional seats in parliament. the Indian government introduced the Panchayat Raj Act (the term panchayat means local. except the party that has selected them. based on the support of 31 per cent of the voters. Under the present arrangement. It would also contribute to the process of women building constituencies. it proposed one-third reservation for women as chairpersons and presidents among the elected women members at the different levels. the method of indirect election has also gained popularity among the women MPs. In such a situation. The women elected by nomination to the parliament do not really represent anyone. and not many women are engaged in developing their constituencies to enable them to contest from the general seats in the next round. the reserved seats can decide who forms the government. Though they have a national geographical constituency. Bangladesh’s political parties have not amended the system. means that there are only small margins of victory. But the women still do not feel secure enough to question and pressure for major electoral reforms. The trend in recent elections. where no party wins absolute majority. the women’s seats have become a deciding factor for almost all the political parties. and raj means governance) to amend the constitution to introduce 33 per cent reservation for women in local-level self-government. they are reminded of their status in parliament and their accountability to women. qualitative change. The introduction of direct election for the reserved seats is expected to address the problem to some extent. The present trend in Bangladesh politics is for a two-party system. Several women MPs in reserved seats attained greater political stature and visibility.The parliament elected in February 1991 contained 30 reserved seats. They cannot be said to represent women in general. The amendments to the Indian constitution that facilitated this act were the 73rd and 74th Amendments of 1992. primarily through their association with the BNP and its leadership in the 1980s. At every possible opportunity. Begum Khaleda Zia. In 1996. namely. In 1991.
the common picture that emerges is one of the reluctance of the State governments to give up power and devolve financial resources. hierarchies and patronage. to tackle the difficult task of overhauling the system and process of governance. Literacy makes a big difference to women’s ability and sense of confidence. like water.100 intermediary councils and 4. The Act also ensures that one-third of the positions for chairpersons are reserved for women.Together. and facing violence in return. And one million women leaders. sanitation. domestic violence and alcohol abuse.5 million people at the village level. the stories that emerge tell of women standing up to contractors. or the State of Kerala. But. Reservation for women has ensured that one million women have emerged as leaders in the villages of India. throughout India. in some instances. they pave the way for local-level self-governance in India. mostly in rural areas have been catapulted into this system with little experience.25 million village councils. by and large. a select review of women’s experiences is a fascinating story of how such affirmative measures do make a difference to the process of governance and to the women themselves. In the first round of elections. and of a bureaucracy reluctant to hand over their decades-old patronage. The larger objective of strengthening the panchayati raj in India was to infuse the development process with social justice. A process of empowerment among the leaders is more than evident. 5. whether it is women from the literate State of Kerala or illiterate women from a village in Karnataka. according to their felt needs. The Panchayat Raj Act legitimizes the role of a total of 2.750 district councils in the country. the panchayati raj plays a critical role. women’s awareness programmes or training and orientation programmes by non-governmental and governmental apparatuses. In an ideal situation. With some exceptions. This is not say that women leaders are not corrupt. children’s education. it enables people to decide the course of development. such as proximate women’s organisations. women’s agency in exercising their leadership roles against many odds in the panchayat is evident. Poverty eradication and helping people to access a broad range of rights was envisaged as a corollary to this process. despite heavy odds. particularly when there is access to support structures within the village. Women’s practical gender concerns. However. healthcare. five million women stood for elections to the one million seats. This confers decision-making power on around 22. enforcing transparency in the system. The most common story across India that emerges is one of corruption-free governance strived for by the women leaders. where illiteracy and other conventional indicators of women’s status are poor. In a society like India. However. The implementation of government-sponsored schemes is ideally decided within a framework of social justice for the poorest and the marginalised. are gaining currency within the development agenda of rural areas. and allocate resources to sectors prioritised by them. where the process of implementing development projects for the people is circumscribed by power. These are very real problems. However. Various experiences with panchayati raj have been reported from the different regions and States in India. the initial years in office have been characterised by many struggles waged against a 15 . who are viewed as proxies for men. the process and experience of substituting a corrupt system of governance with a socially just one has been fraught with problems. which enjoys the highest literacy rates in India and is considered to be relatively better off. Whether it is the backward State of Uttar Pradesh. The other common story is about changing priorities in development. There is a great deal of scepticism about women leaders.
Women members were to be nominated to represent each of three wards of a union. elected local government officials have never enjoyed constitutionally guaranteed political rights since the birth of Bangladesh. in its report published in 1997. Bangladesh In Bangladesh. The local government Zilla Parishad (Amendment) Bill. These teething problems were overcome in the first two years and “women have gained a sense of empowerment by asserting control over resources. two male and one female members would be elected by the chairman and members of the union parishad under the concerned thana. This is just one instance among many. namely gram parishad (at the village level). suggested a four-tier democratic local government structure. lack of women’s participation in local government institutions. and institutional inability have all characterised local governance over the past decades. It also provided that from each thana of a district. which changed the number of women representatives as well as the procedures for their nomination. by challenging men” (Jain. 2000). Though he promised to return the jewellery. considered `retained' under the absolute jurisdiction of 16 . Women’s representation in local-level self-governance institutions has brought out the advantages of proximity. little mention was made of the specific powers and jurisdiction of elected members. threatening dire consequences. he did not. writing reports and ability to conduct meetings (see also Seema and Mukherjee. the leaders of the panchayat went and met him. This has allowed for mobilisation of struggles around a variety of issues affecting the people. Leaders are available within easy reach to address the problems faced within their geographical constituencies. These functions. Central bureaucratic control over administrative processes. for more on Kerala’s unique experiments with decentralisation). President Ershad’s government passed two more ordinances. For instance.patriarchal society. The moneylender had to relent (Seema and Mukherjee. While the report and the new legislation did emphasise the issue of representation. most of all. an increase of knowledge in administrative matters. of accountability being demanded from the system. two presidential ordinances ensured women’s representation in local bodies. lack of power and capacity to mobilise local resources. Later. upazilla parishad (at the thana level) and zilla parishad (at the district level). and domination by men in the meetings. when a moneylender refused to return a woman labourer’s jewellery even after she had paid her dues. 1993 provides for abolishing the system of nominating the chairman and members. in 1982 and 1983. 2000. Despite several attempts by successive regimes to reform local government institutions. Most women leaders report a sense of self-confidence in dealing with officials or giving public speeches. This has created a situation where local governments are neither promoted nor become effective in bringing women into the political arena. officials and. women’s representation to the local bodies has been through several amendments to the constitution. In 1976 and 1977. Each zilla parishad would now consist of an elected chairman and elected male and female members. The core regulatory functions of administration and the magistracy and judiciary have remained outside the scope of recent reforms. The newly established Local Government Reform Commission. in Kerala. 2000). union parishad (at the union level). A group of women gathered and sat on strike in front of his shop.
have constituted the main basis of non-democratic governments since the colonial period (Rahaman and Kamal. Previously. they were complaining against their male counterparts. as contenders for general seats with men and as candidates for reserved seats. There were media reports of husbands hiding the only sari a woman candidate had. along with help from NGOs. That was the first case of assertiveness from women at the local level in Bangladesh. The 1997 union parishad election significantly increased the participation of women as voters. The elected women submitted a memorandum of their complaints. and was bold enough to file a complaint with the police.828 reserved seats. to prevent her from leaving home to campaign. as many as 20 female candidates were elected to the posts of chairpersons (PLAGE. and then with the prime minister.000 female candidates competing for 12. In no other way could these women have moved into these institutions and participated in them. 25 female candidates won the elections. The pressure they created. they did contest. which required all women members to be directly elected. Furthermore. but her courage will be an example for the other women elected to the parishad. and. They were not allowed to operate as elected members. the Union Parishad Ordinance (1997). There were also reports of physical abuse. northwest of Bangladesh. Ministry of Women and Children Affairs The introduction of direct election to the reserved seats for the local elected bodies is undoubtedly a breakthrough for women in Bangladesh.000 female candidates competed for the general seats. 17 . the women found the situation more complex. The fact that the police have been negligent is another matter. Graph 2. The women were to be chosen through direct election. during the first year of the Awami League regime. Nonetheless. however. However. In 1997. defeating their male counterparts. a bill was moved in parliament that sought to reserve three seats for women in each union parishad. five women union parishad members were raped. Female Chairpersons in Local Government in Bangladesh Source: PLAGE. and. In Gaibandha district. 1991). on being elected. intimidated. The woman member was not. 1999). The entire campaign process was an uphill task for the women candidates. at a national convention. Nearly 4. the massive participation of women as candidates for directly elected positions will be considered a landmark in the institutionalisation process of women’s participation in Bangladesh's politics. The campaign period was trying. The 1997 election saw more than 46. In one extreme case. That was possible due to the creation of an institutional space for women through a constitutional amendment. The new ordinance provided for the direct election of women to all the three reserved seats. for the first time. one because she refused to give in to her male colleagues. The participation of women voters in those elections to local bodies was the highest ever recorded. the three reserved seats for women in each union parishad were filled by nomination.the bureaucracy. The negligible number of female chairpersons indicates the marginal political status of women in the local power structure. led to a meeting with the minister for local government and rural development. Although there was some confusion about whether or not women should contest from the general seats. within months. their experience so far has been riddled with diverse problems.
replacing it with Islam as the State religion. As a result. The union parishad functions within a centralised set-up. in the 1980s. religion continues its grip over politics. The specific activities of NGOs focused on raising awareness and sensitisation on politics. The new ordinance forced all political parties to support at least one female candidate. When convenient. However. There is worry that the gap between the expectations of the electorate and the performances of the representatives may end in alienating the women and negatively affecting their future in politics. the government introduced compulsory religious education at the school level. This provision has increased the numerical involvement of women in the local government units. the Eighth Amendment removed secularism from the constitution. as well as sharing of experiences within the region. have thrown up various formulations that have helped the women’s movement to engage with the State in their respective countries. It is perhaps too early to expect major changes just because women have been placed in these new political positions Nepal At the local level. Financial dependency is also a serious drawback. as there is no support system to relieve them of domestic responsibilities.. they push their wives or female relatives into electoral politics to perpetuate their own control. these activities also succeeded in raising awareness amongst women across parties. One seat is reserved for women in each ward of the Village Development Committee. and demands on. In Bangladesh. About 40. the women are greater. experience in running local elected bodies. In Bangladesh. leadership training. The women are elected to the parishad from a constituency of three wards. For the first time. among 18 . their involvement in positions of decision-making and influence is insignificant. participation by the majority of male and female members is a mere formality. which ensured a 20 per cent reservation of seats for women.There is also a gender imbalance in the ratio of men and women. Finally. particularly women. Though the local government laws in Bangladesh are progressive. or very little. Along the way. and political empowerment of the rural citizens. has been a breakthrough. Exposure to the international context. The men have also learned to manipulate the system. Thus. voter education. Several NGOs have been advocating. a strong male domination prevails. and has contributed to the increased participation of women in local elected bodies. thus by an electorate three times the size of the voters who elect the male members. candidate training. It is only the chairman and the secretary who have any influence or power in these structures. The lack of clear guidelines on the roles and responsibilities of the women members compounds the problem. they exist in an entrenched system of patriarchy. The elected women now bear an additional burden. the women have no. NGOs took on programmes for dialogues with political parties. etc. the new ordinance of 1997.000 female candidates were elected in the local elections of 1997. Overall. This puts them under serious difficulties. the expectations of. Initiatives to Enhance Women’s Political Participation in South Asia The women’s movement in South Asia has developed strong networking across borders to strengthen advocacy for women’s political participation. This fact encouraged women to get more involved in political activities in Nepal. As it is. There are more men on the general seats than women.
women activist organisations began raising the issue of the need to increase women’s participation in politics. In addition. The Network has systematically promoted women as candidates with a substantial mass base.000. where systematic gender training programmes for women in panchayats have been conducted by the government and technical training on genderbudgeting of projects imparted. comprising mainly peasant women. with the long-term objective of voter education to help women voters identify candidates who are gender-sensitive. after the first general election of 1991. An illuminating example is one from Kerala State. an increase in women’s representation in politics. The Network has women representing all the three major ethnic communities. in the central province of the country. and the first local elections of 1992. the Network has been able to field a group of active members as independent candidates in the local government elections. the SLWNGOF mounted an intensive media campaign that came out strongly and actively against the spread of political violence during elections to local/provincial councils. In view of the forthcoming provincial council elections. both symbolically and functionally. In Nepal. for women to come together to demonstrate their concern about violence in the political process. set up in 1993. The workshop participants are drawn from all walks of life. The Forum will also actively work in collaboration with other civil organisations to achieve a free and fair election. academics.themselves. Tamil and Muslim. responsive and who promote democratic practices. and all citizens to ensure a violence-free election. it will personally address the women’s branches of all political parties. activists and policymakers. Political participation of women was the focus of the first theme of the media campaign. the Sri Lanka’s Women’s NGO Forum (SLWNGOF). including the establishment of a regional network on issues relating to women in politics. Various workshops and seminars were organised. NGOs train elected women members to intervene in panchayat meetings. and to abandon their purdah (seclusion). The Forum hopes to publicise this campaign through the mass media. SLWNGOF deems it necessary. Recently. both governmental and non-governmental organisations are conducting capacity-building programmes for elected women members. Elsewhere. in the backward States of northern India. who could be a decisive factor in determining 19 . Sinhala. namely. alongside regional initiatives. in 1997. given the current climate of violence and fear during and after elections. In India. to read and write. They include members who are politically active as well as those who have themselves been candidates. The Sinhala Tamil Rural Women’s Network. In Sri Lanka. For the first time in the history of NGO activism in Sri Lanka. the forum has launched a campaign to appeal to: • • • political parties to include more women candidates in their electoral lists and to address women’s concerns in their campaign manifestos. has a membership of about 36. has been launching several media campaigns to raise awareness at the national level on women’s concerns. The Centre for Society and Religion has launched a series of workshops on women’s rights. women to exercise their votes.
Here.the final outcome of the election. That has been a negative development. and due to the proliferation of nonpolitical women’s organisations. The State’s initiative of granting quotas or reservation for women has proved to be a mixed bag. The family and the community have replaced the State as the agency for granting voting rights to women. especially in the realm of party politics. which now has direct election and 33 per cent reservation for elected members in the local bodies at all three tiers of administration. it must be remembered that the affirmative measures are being injected externally into societies with extremely entrenched systems and traditions. Across countries in South Asia. constitutional provisions. the interaction of women in the public sphere has improved as a consequence of the women’s movement. religious and cultural factors remain major impediments. with an additional equal reservation for leadership position. It is. and therefore. however. At the grass-roots level. legislative reforms and affirmative actions designed to encourage women’s participation in politics at the national level did not automatically result in the enhanced participation of women in politics. Whatever the outcomes. waging struggles on several fronts. Women have greater potential and opportunities under democracy than under any other political system. has emerged as the best model. has ended up in women depending on political patronage and becoming `secondary members'. the case of India. Conclusion The long history of struggles in South Asia--from women’s suffrage to women’s participation in electoral politics at national and provincial levels--is an ongoing one. Women are emerging as leaders. Bangladesh and Nepal feature restricted reservation at a particular tier of administration. affirmative measures such as reservation and quotas end up as merely notional. The system of indirect elections through nominations to the national assembly and parliament. although there are enough examples of autocratic and repressive practices within democratic systems. The Network has already submitted nominations for the forthcoming provincial council elections. South Asia boasts no documented case of political parties promoting the active participation of women in the party hierarchy or politics. depending on the country in question and the stipulation for reservation. The governments of these countries are taking various initiatives to increase the political participation of women. However. In contemporary South Asia. particularly at the grass-roots level. Socio-economic. as far as women in these countries are concerned. India is still struggling for a constitutional amendment reserving 33 per cent seats for women in the parliament and State assemblies through direct election. political restructuring will take a long time to usher in social transformations. The experience of democracy in practice in South Asia is that elected representatives routinely make politically expedient compromises and betray the confidence of their electors. 20 . and women have started to engage with the State on a larger scale. evident that there are variations in this relationship between the State and women. as in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They have created alternative political spaces for women outside the party and other formal political structures. the power of legislative reforms to ensure women’s participation in electoral politics cannot be underestimated.
however. Of these. a vibrant movement has become a countervailing power to the State. activists. despite the hurdles the women faced in getting to attend them. There is need to develop a system to provide women with information. of being portrayed as victimised and helpless. one must. Having articulated the limitations of elected representative democracy. It is important to strengthen the links forged amongst the women’s movement. The majority of the 250-member Rajya Sabha is elected by the State legislatures. have been the most marginalised members of Indian society. 119 seats are reserved for members of the `scheduled' tribes and castes. civil society and women politicians. the relationship between the State and the women’s movement is an uneasy one. At the same time. the president nominates 12 of its members. Women also have to be taught to overcome the psychology of subordination. however. The women’s movement in South Asia. Then the `female patriarchs' perpetuate the existing system. comprising 25 States and seven union territories. in many instances. In all these countries. However. as it involves matters of class and caste. historically. elected from single-member constituencies. 21 . the membership of the prime minister in the Lok Sabha and its control over money bills means that the Lok Sabha is the primary arena of governmental decision-making. selfaggrandisement gets priority over gender issues. are creating new leadership models. both locally and nationally.The mere fact of being elected to office as a woman does not. despite constraints and fragmentation. The national policy-making executive is the prime minister. The national government consists of a president and a bicameral legislature: the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the more powerful Lok Sabha (House of the People). there is need for extensive programmatic interventions to develop women’s skills to be efficient candidates and managers in governance. and not be content with being guided by men. the training programmes on women in politics were received with great enthusiasm. the leader of the majority party in the Lok Sabha. This is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. democratic system and a parliamentary form of government. the groups that. and. These reserved seats are divided among the States in proportion to the population that falls in these categories. Once they are co-opted. based on population. emphasise that South Asian women would never have been able to rise to where they now are without democracy and reservation. Endnote Background Information on political structures of select countries of South Asia: India India is a federal union. In every country of the region. automatically ensure gender sensitivity. has had a number of achievements. The Lok Sabha has 545 members. There are attempts to co-opt leaders from the women’s movement through policies and actions. Although the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have similar powers. The women are fully aware of the importance of knowledge and skills to fulfil their new roles. with a multiparty.
During this period. in 1956. Since its unification 200 years ago. Nepal has been a monarchy. landlocked Himalayan State. Nepal Nepal is a small. In 1950. Each VDC and municipality is divided into wards. Five persons (one ward chair. The ward chair is also the member of the VDC/municipality board. framed in 1990. ruled Nepal. three ward members and a woman member) are elected to represent the village council. on the basis of adult franchise. Pakistan has gone through a turbulent period of nationhood in the 50 years of its existence. Some districts have municipalities also. jointly involving the people of Nepal and the King. placed between India and China. 22 . A municipality is bigger in terms of population and geographical size. Nepal had no party system. three separate constitutions were promulgated. and a parliamentary form of government was established. 1972 and 1973. For a century of isolation between 1850-1950. autocratic panchayat system. For more than 30 years.Pakistan Pakistan is a federal State comprising four provinces. a feudal family—the Ranas—who called themselves kings. constitutional monarchy and the strengthening of multiparty democracy. a movement. The lower house has 205 members who are directly elected people’s representative from 205 constituencies of the country. there was a mass movement for the restoration of democracy. The constitution of Nepal. The 60-member upper house is indirectly elected and nominated by the King. overthrew the autocratic rule of the Ranas. Each district is divided into several Village Development Committees (VDCs). It took Pakistan 23 years after independence to hold its first general election to parliament in 1970. and an independent judiciary. During their regime. The political system of Nepal consists of a two-house parliament: the House of Representatives (the lower house) and the National Assembly (the upper house). and established a party-less. the people were deprived of fundamental rights. In 1989. democratic system and a presidential form of government. In 1960. The national government consists of a president and a bicameral legislature: the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies. after the restoration of democracy. Nepal is divided into 75 administrative zones called districts. the King banned the parliamentary system of government. with a multiparty. mandates a parliamentary form of government. Its population of over 18 million is predominantly rural.
References 23 .
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