Tuesday, 20 October, 2020

Local Governments, Women Empowerment And Constitution


Ram Chandra Pokhrel

When the colorful evening of Asoj 3, 2072 BS (September 20, 2015) was witnessing the gracious presence of the first President of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, there was an unprecedented wave of curiosity in the Constituent Assembly hall at Baneshwor. It was truly one of the unique moments when President Yadav, standing at the rostrum, had repeatedly touched his forehead with a copy of the constitution as a gesture of his high respect and honour to the newly created constitution. At that eventful day, the new charter was being realised following the 70-year long struggle and sacrifice of the Nepali people for having a full-fledged democratic constitution.
From that very moment, Nepal had entered into the era of the "Federal Democratic Republic". The day will be remembered in the history of Nepal forever as the country passed through the era of kingship to the republic, from the dictatorship to democracy and from the unitary to federal system of governance.

A New Beginning
That day was also the beginning of the implementation of the provision of federal structure, rule of law, and full exercise of the people's sovereignty through the legislative and executive bodies (elected by the people) and the full respect to human rights monitored through the constitutional body like Human Rights Commission.
For the first time in the history of Nepal, a full-fledged restructuring of states through a constitutional commission was implemented which helped the creation of seven provinces and the structures of 753 local level bodies as per the spirit of the constitution. The most important achievement is the provision of constitutionally guaranteed local governments that are regarded as the strong pillars of the provinces and the federal system.
All three levels of legislative, executive, and judicial power as provisioned in the constitution was yet another achievement. Moreover, it was also a great victory of the 23-year long campaign of the associations representing all three local bodies.
During the constitution implementation, the provision of provincial set-up, which is quite new for Nepal, had created some sorts of confusion. On the part of the local governments, they did their best as soon as the elected bodies assumed office. Through the newly created 753 local bodies- both village and municipals, the people have enjoyed the arrival of 'the governments at doorstep' for their day-to-day business and services to be delivered to them through their elected representatives.
The Constitution of Nepal has all the provisions and norms of a democratic constitution, yet it has some unique and special features and provisions that are rare even in the advanced democracies. One of them is the greater participation of women in state structures. At least 33 percent of women candidates have to be recommended by the political parties as their candidates for elections.
As provisioned in the constitution, at least one of the elected heads or deputy heads should be a female candidate. The Speaker or Deputy Speaker in the House should be from different political parties while one of them must be a female. Females are free to be candidates even for other seats. With the implementation of the constitution, hundreds of women were among 35,984 local representatives who were elected and some of the women candidates were elected as mayors. They have led the local level bodies efficiently.
The very first woman included in any cabinet was late Dwarika Devi Chand Thakurani who was included in the elected government led by BP Koirala in 1959 BS. After 39 years, the country achieved another milestone with the participation of women through the reserved one seat among the ward committee members in 2054 BS. Thus, a contingent of women leaders first entered into elected bodies' mechanism after the promulgation of the Local Self Governance Act in 1999.
Second, the constitution has yet another special provision that the candidature for the elected positions should be "proportional and inclusive" at all three levels of governments. Likewise, the spirit of the provision has come into practice even in the governments' mechanism – judicial and civil service, etc. Breaking the tradition, the army and police forces have already started more female youths in their ranks. All these steps are a matter of pride for the people of Nepal.

Women Empowerment
Some Provisions of the Constitution aimed at supporting women's empowerment are: Proportional inclusion of women in state structures, special provision for the empowerment of women and indigenous nationalities (adivasis), rights of the victims of discrimination to compensation, remedies for the victims of human trafficking , remedies for violence against women, a special opportunity for women in education, health, employment and social security, etc. Spousal rights, backward women's, helpless single women"s and social securities act too supported in empowering the women. The participation of adivasi-janajati in the decision-making marks yet another step forward in this direction.
The constitution has enshrined the provision of having at least 33 percent of women participation in our highest legislature- the parliament or Pratinidhi Sabha or the House of Representatives and the Upper House or Rastriya Sabha. We should also take pride in having a provision of one woman either in the position of Speaker or Deputy Speaker and in the position of Chair or Deputy Chair of the Upper House.

Local Governments
As mentioned above, constitutionally guaranteed local governments are yet another remarkable milestone provisioned in our constitution. It mentions that local level governments have three units- Rural Municipality, Municipality, and District Coordination Committees (DCCs). While the executive powers lie in the first two, the DCCs have been given the responsibility of coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of the local bodies or their respective districts.
But, because of the various reasons, DCCs have not been entrusted with its responsibilities through proper acts, manpower, and resources. However, the annual assembly of DCCs wherein mayors and deputy mayors are members can take decisions for the greater benefits of the district as a whole and they have been doing so. As mentioned in the constitution, Jilla Sabha (the district assembly) is the elected district institution in the local governments. And DCCs are the body that has been entrusted to carry on the day-to-day business of the assembly.

A Rare Document
It has already been almost midway of the tenure of the local governments in the country. Despite some hindrances, the implementation of the constitution through local governments has gone well, which was reflected during the initial days of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak. The critics of the inclusion of local governments in the constitution have seemed to appreciate the local governments' efficiency in handling the virus cases, quarantine camps, and home isolations.
Furthermore, the police forces posted along the border points found the local elected leaders as the most effective and dependable back force. It showed that local governments could do more than our expectations if the federal and provincial governments would provide them with sufficient manpower and budget.
The Constitution of Nepal, a rare document in the history of the country, can empower every citizen through local governments including the marginalised sections of society if properly implemented. The political parties that are the puller of the nation should exhibit enough moral force to implement the constitution sincerely and honestly. They should do so all the while and not only when they remain in power enjoying government posts and pelf.

(Pokhrel is former member of parliament representing Nepali Congress) 

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