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Abigail Hunt, Policy & Advocacy Mananger, and Cintia Lavandera, Programmes Manager, travelled to Nepal to work with Womankind’s partners. Abigail Hunt reports back…
In 1996 civil war broke out in Nepal, which ended with a peace agreement in 2006. Since the conflict Nepal has seen a series of short-term coalition governments, and Nepali politics has been characterised by long and difficult negotiations between the main parties.
To date, no consensus has been reached on the content of a permanent constitution to govern the country. An Interim Constitution is currently in place, under which a Constituent Assembly is charged with writing Nepal’s permanent constitution. Elections to a second Constituent Assembly were held in November 2013, and political leaders have pledged to draft a new constitution by February 2015.
A constitution is a country’s most import legal document, setting out the basic structure of government and the relationship between the government and its people. Besides establishing a government’s power, a constitution also cites and protects the fundamental rights of the people living in the country. Therefore agreeing a permanent constitution is essential to lasting peace and democracy – and is an urgent priority for the government, civil society and people of Nepal.
Against this backdrop I travelled to Nepal last week to work with the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO), a Womankind partner since 2009. FEDO has a long experience of working with community groups to ensure the political and public participation of Dalit women in Nepal, who experience significant caste and gender-based discrimination.
With 10 months still to go until the Constituent Assembly approves the new constitution, FEDO is determined to take part in the discussions happening across the country so that Dalit women are not forgotten. More precisely, FEDO wants to ensure that Dalit women’s right to full participation in political and governance bodies is confirmed within the text.
As a large network, with members in 56 of Nepal’s 75 Districts, FEDO is in a strong position to make the voice of Dalit women heard. However getting this voice listened to, and in the right places, is what counts.
Therefore whilst in Nepal Womankind facilitated a three-day advocacy workshop to analyse the constitution-making process and plan alongside FEDO how best to engage in it. During this time many passionate discussions on the importance of Dalit women’s full and meaningful participation in political and public life took place – with the new constitution unanimously considered to be an important guarantor of these rights.
For FEDO, the message is clear: a specific constitutional clause stipulating Dalit women’s compulsory proportional representation in Nepal’s political and public bodies is crucial. Without this, Dalit women will continue to be excluded from the decision-making processes which affect their lives, and their priorities overlooked by largely disinterested policy-makers.
FEDO’s Executive Director, Bhim Bahadur B.K., said, “We believe that constitutional and legal provisions are the best way to ensure Dalit women’s representation in all structures of state affairs. This is why we are working for Dalit women’s inclusion in the development and implementation of the new constitution.”
Following the workshop I met with another Womankind partner organisation – Women for Human Rights – to discuss their work supporting women’s economic empowerment in west Nepal. Finally, just before leaving I attended a planning meeting on the upcoming Beijing +20 review, organised by a coalition of Nepali women’s rights organisations and chaired by Womankind’s partner Saathi.
FEDO is a national level Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) founded in 1994 to establish the rights of Dalit women by organizing and empowering them for their mainstreaming into national development. [+ read more]
- Global fund for Women
- International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
- European Union (EU)
- Womankind Worldwide
- WaterAid Nepal
- Open Society Foundation (OSF)
- World Bank/CECI
- Australian Embassy
- DanChurch Aid (DCA)