I am curious to know why most women do not tend to participate in public activities such as engaging in politics and related discourses, volunteering in community organizations, and taking leadership.
What prevents them from stepping in?
For more than a decade now, Nepal has transformed into a democratic republic from a constitutional Monarchy. The Constitution provides sovereign powers to the people. As a result, people choose a system of governance on their own, and periodic elections ensure democratic practices.
In the past ten years, at least five general elections held either to form different levels of government or the Constitution itself. The Constitution allocates a minimum of 33 percent reservation seats for women, which means that women can come to politics in as many numbers as they like. This constitutionally guaranteed number of women representation in political formations cannot be less than 33 in percentage. But this has not been the case. Women are way far under-represented in domestic politics.
The situation has not been much different in socio-political activities among Nepali diaspora residing in Canada.
Most women that I have talked to sound unwilling to participate in public or community activities. The recent NRNA-Canada election demonstrates women’s sparse representation. On the newly formed board for a two-year term, it appears that just one or two women have been elected.
This is not a case from this election in isolation. Of 20 members, just one woman secured her representation for the term 2019-2021. Women did not participate in public activities.
This tendency does not surprise me, though.
I have my own experience regarding girls’ reluctance in politics. We women share many things in common- we all like MoMos, Samosas, and Biryani of the same taste. We can spend hours talking about each other’s hobbies, food choices, clothes, jewelry, make-up products, and new releases of Bollywood soaps and television dramas but do not show interest in politics.
Why women are unwilling to participate in public spheres has triggered my thoughts.
Why public participation seems to repel women, there could be some reasons. Following down here, I try to reflect on some of them.
First, women think that this is not their job. Social structures and traditions have taught them not to engage in public issues but to do the chores and accomplish indoor responsibilities. They are not encouraged to involve in the discussion of political ideas. Even in schools, there are gender boundaries in sports and extracurricular activities. Boys get the motivation to take risks, but girls get praise for being an attentive audience. That’s why the latter tend to create their comfort zones within the limits of social norms. Thus, a boy’s political ambition grows, and girl’s one fades.
Due to social pressure, girls cannot decide whether or not to do particular things. Boys get access to all public spaces and opportunities that the girls’ are deprived of. Girl-child plays with toys and barbie dolls, that is, totally non-competitive games. In contrast, boy-child plays risky, competitive, and organized sports. That builds their resilience, courage, and confidence. Thus, boys are more likely to get socialized by their parents to think about a career in public spheres than their female siblings are. As a result, when girls mature, they feel that fulfilling general public duties is not their job.
Second, women become showcase items in public spaces.
Due to increasing social awareness, they are getting access to some of their fundamental rights. Society has realized that women need to live a life with dignity and respect. After a long struggle, they have begun to occupy public spaces, but we women still need actual and meaningful participation.
Despite being in public services, some women are not in the capacity to make executive decisions. In most cases, their task is ceremonial. This situation impairs women’s meaningful and effective participation.
To our shock, transnational migration has not lessened the gender disparities. The NRNA-Canada election is one of the vivid examples of persistent inequality. Just one or two women are on board which implies that their voice won’t be heard and that men will take all decisions.
In the name of giving representation, women cannot be only the showcase. They can lead society as men do by fulfilling the executive positions. In the case of NRNA- Canada too, it is imperative that more women get representations and assignments, and their presence becomes meaningful.
Third, women suffer a public assault on integrity if they choose to become visible. Those who want to come to the forefront get assaulted. Society raises questions about their integrity; it does not expect them to speak up and make decisions independently. This makes women feel humiliated, ignored, and stigmatized for coming to the public domain.
In some cases, when a few girls stand up, speak about politics, and talk about taking risks in life, they get the ‘bad girls’ tag. Due to this bad image, girls are discouraged from involving in any social activism or politics.
I have also noticed that few women who are good at public speaking and talk about existing political issues get labeled as ‘over smart.’ The majority of women do not want to talk about matters of public concern because they are not used to it. Those who go against injustice are considered morally unsound. People think that they taint the family’s fame and name.
Public appearance becomes the benchmark of assessing women’s character. Let alone the public; she will have to struggle with male members at her own home. Even worse, she is laughed at as an ‘activist’ or a ‘feminist.’
No girl wants to wake up the other morning like a ‘Bad Person.’
Don’t the same morality and ethics do not apply to men and women? Why not?
At first, women are human beings, and they want self-respect and reputation. It is inaccurate to sexualize all men-women relations. Until we successfully desexualize this relation, women are likely to receive a ‘Bad Woman’ tag.
Inclusive participation is important. Society can’t run smoothly without equality. Public issues affect many lives. We should know what is happening around us, be aware of existing laws, and become accountable citizens. We should not hesitate to share our opinions and participate in elections. When evil people come to lead society, everything turns apart. In the present scenario, politically less aware people are in politics. The risk could be that such people might do politicking more than politics. It has happened in Nepal’s domestic politics. This has increased public frustrations towards politics.
To sum up, women need meaningful participation. The socio-political cultures should inspire women to go to the public. Women do not need to hesitate to engage in socio-political activities, co-ordinate and contest with men, and present their opinions. They can present themselves in public as well as in private settings.
We must ensure that women’s integrity does not become a question when they take to public participation. Both men’s and women’s integrity should be questioned using the same measures. Otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense.
When a man’s integrity increases through his public images, how does a woman’s presence in the same public forum decrease hers?
Lots of gender boundaries are being redrawn. Women’s involvement in public affairs should increase. The parents, family members, teachers, and coaches should encourage young women to think about a public career and politics. They should mentor youths to take leadership roles and mitigate gender disparities. Women should be acknowledged and appreciated for engaging in frontline public service, charity work, and activism.
She should not get the ‘Bad Girl’ tag for coming to the public.