Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hisila Yami (Pravati): Women's Role in the Nepalese Movement: Making a People's Constitution

reposted from Monthly Review.

At this very moment Nepal is making a constitution through the historic Constitutional Assembly (CA).  It is important to note that up till now all prior constitutions handed over to the people of Nepal were through direct intervention of oligarchs or kings.  It was the historic ten years of People's War (PW) (1996-2006) complemented with 19 days of People's Movement (April 2006) that made it possible to bring about a free and fair CA election in April 2008 as a means to make a people's constitution by the people themselves.  It is under the leadership of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN(Maoist)] and its skillful use of a united front with various parties that the monarchy system was abolished in 2008.

The specificity of the Nepalese movement is the presence of a strong left.  For this very reason the women's movement is comparatively strong in Nepal.  Women's exploitation being deep-rooted -- one of the oldest and longest exploitations, embracing all sectors from womb to tomb -- communist movements often take the lead in ending it.  Of course one has to fight against patriarchal tendencies within the Communist Party or similar tendencies arising from the stage of development of one's society which ultimately find reflection on the Party or movement.  But there are always rightist, ultra-leftist and eclectic middle tendencies within the Party or movement which will affect the women's movement accordingly.  Women have to fight for a correct line which addresses both the class and gender issues in correct proportions.  In the specific case of Nepal, we have to additionally address Dalit, regional and ethnic oppression because they are interrelated to women's oppression.

Women's Movement before the PW

It is important to recall that the first people's movement that took place in 1990 lasted almost 50 days and resulted in the overthrow of the "partyless" Panchayat system, a one party system run from the royal palace that had lasted for thirty years (1960-1990).  During monarchical rule, women's and student's fronts were very active as political parties were banned and they operated through these fronts.  This is in sharp contrast to most other South Asian countries where the women's movement emerged along with independence movements against foreign rule.  When the 1990 anti-monarchical movement started spreading from urban areas towards rural areas, the king was forced to negotiate with the political parties.  This resulted in a tripartite agreement between the king, Nepali Congress (NC) (representing the comprador bourgeois class) and the United Left Front (representing broad reformist left parties) to arrive at a constitutional monarchical parliamentary system.  The new constitution promulgated in 1990 made mandatory that each party make a minimum of five percent of its candidates women as a condition to contest in the election.  In the first 1991 election, out of 205 legislatives representatives only seven women were elected.

But a second united front, a more radical United National People's Movement (UNPM), which also had been struggling against the Panchayat system, decided to continue the struggle against the constitutional monarchical parliamentary system on the ground that only a constituent assembly election would serve the interests of the broad mass of the people.  Nonetheless the underground Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre) [CPN(UC)], which was one of the main parties within UNPM, decided to participate in the first election through its aboveground United People's Front (UPF).  One of its main aims was to expose the contradiction between monarchy and democracy and the fallacy of a supposedly democratic Westminster parliamentary system headed by the king.  It fielded 59 candidates, of which four were women candidates.  Nine candidates won in the election, making the party the third largest after the bourgeois NC and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) [CPN(UML)].  None of the UPF women candidates won.