Many say that she is being asked to do so because she is a woman. NCP has advocated for gender equality in the past and even includes it prominently in its party manifesto. But it is often accused of not staying true to its words and not letting women leaders grow.
“This is political violence, caused by a culture of patriarchy and egoism in politics,” says Renu Adhikari, a women’s rights activist. “This is breeding dissatisfaction among junior women leaders, and top leaders should beware. It is high time they realised that it is not so easy to push women around.”
Several women’s rights activists and organisations have spoken out in support of Tumbahangphe and protested NCP’s shabby treatment of her. NCP, meanwhile, seems unaware of the gender angle, as it focuses on bagging the position of the Speaker.
NCP spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha scoffed at the idea that the incident could be offensive to women. “Says who? They should read the Constitution,” said Shrestha, in an interview with Nepali Times. “The Speaker’s post should belong to NCP by rights, since we have the majority in the parliament. We are confident that Tumbahangphe will realise her duty to the party and tender her resignation soon. If she does not resign, we cannot elect anyone, including her.”
Tumbahangphe is adamant that she will only resign if the parties announce their candidate, and has time and again claimed that she is qualified to contest. Meanwhile, those in the know say that Tumbahangphe doesn’t stand a chance as NCP is sure to nominate someone close to one of the co-chairs KP Oli and Prachanda. And that, to many, is a bigger injustice than a violation of women’s rights.
Tumbahangphe is a highly qualified candidate by all standards, maybe even over qualified for Nepali politics. Active in politics for more than 40 years, Tumbahangphe also has a PhD in women’s role in Nepal’s politics. Not just women’s rights activists, but ordinary men and women are asking why such a qualified person who has already proved her competence as deputy speaker is being sidelined.
“It is not just a matter of women’s rights, but one of social justice,” says Binda Pande, an NCP leader who has often used a feminist lens to critique the party’s policies. “Tumbahangphe is a qualified, competent, and experienced leader, and her claim to the position of the Speaker is justified on those counts. Pushing for her candidacy on the basis of her gender would be an injustice to other things she brings to the table.”
Tumbahangphe also has stated that she is claiming the candidacy not because she is a woman, but because she is competent. Tumbahangphe represents a small minority of women who are so qualified that they can afford to rule gender out of the equation.
No one, not even Tumbahangphe herself, is saying she should become Speaker because she is a woman. The question is not if a woman should get the job, but if her gender is preventing her from getting it.
However, an objective look would show that gender inequality is still an issue in Nepal’s politics: in the 30-year practice of multi-party democracy in Nepal, a woman has led Parliament for only three years (Onsari Gharti 2015-2018).
Even though the Maoist party entered the mainstream politics with a large number of women, many of them have fallen by the wayside and today senior leaders of NCP are mostly male. Though the constitution mandates that the head and deputy head of all local levels must be of different genders, parties have mostly fielded women for deputy positions and few are in leading positions.
Women, though equally qualified, experienced, and dedicated as men, continue to fight for equal acceptance by their parties. Even though the current impasse seems like an individual stand for justice against a powerful establishment, it is symbolic of the culture of patriarchy in Nepal’s politics that undermines women. How the Speaker dispute is resolved by the ruling party will, whether Tumbahangphe is retained or not, represent a milestone in Nepali politics.