Many women deputies are now eager to contest for mayoral and chair positions in local elections on 13 May. A survey shows that 80% of female elected officials holding deputy positions want to run for top leadership positions this time – even though their hopes may be dashed because male leaders of the ruling coalition government have decided to divide up tickets based on patronage.
Prabha Baral, the elected mayor of Chitwan’s Rapti Municipality explains that although the presence of women in top positions is still negligible, Nepal’s political parties are trying to increase the presence of female candidates in this year’s election.
Baral’s constituency along with Syangja’s Putalibazar led by Mayor Sima Kumari Chettri were among seven local governments classified as ‘Excellent’ in a report card by the Municipal Association of Nepal. Their role in Judicial Committees in mediating local disputes has been exemplary.
Despite the optimism, there are challenges. Of the 13,311 female officials who joined municipal assemblies across the country as ward members, 6,569 were from the Dalit community. Yet, Dalit women are almost completely absent from the executive and decision-making positions. Their presence in local governments has been reduced to formality and tokenism.
Women are also less likely to secure adequate election funding than male candidates, one of the reasons being that many Nepali women still do not have independent control over financial resources.
Many women who ran for office at the provincial and national levels in 2017 say they have not even been able to pay off their election debts, or may not run for office a second time, as they struggle to finance their campaigns while men are backed by contractors and the wealthy.
Additionally, now more than ever, women incumbents and candidates must navigate the upcoming election on social media platforms as political parties use the internet to campaign. The social web is also rampant with misogynistic expression and hate speech, online trolling and threats of sexual violence. Women in positions of power are judged more harshly, undermining their achievements and authority.
Still, analysts are hopeful that more women will join the executive ranks after this May’s local elections. And hopefully there will be many more than the seven mayors and 11 chairs at present who are female. If voters cast ballots on the basis of performance, there certainly would be more women leaders.