Feature Article

Opinion - The principle of proportional inclusive representation

Posted: 2011-12-08

By Hon Usha Kala Rai, former Coordinator, Women's Caucus, Nepal

Nepal is preparing to make a progressive leap with its Constituent Assembly (CA) – a move which has been possible due to the struggles of the Nepali people and their desire for change.

One of the most important tasks assigned to the CA was to ensure that people enjoy the right to participate in all state organs based on the principle of inclusive proportional representation. The People's Movement (2006) and the 2007 Interim Constitution explicitly showed the wish to see a restructuring of the state based on providing equal and special rights to those who have been deprived of theirs for years.

The golden rule of democracy is, 'People are the rulers in democracy.' Hence, women (who constitute more than half of the population) should be guaranteed participation in all state structures based on the principle of inclusive proportional representation.  Unfortunately, women are neglected at all levels of the state. There have been repeated declarations and commitments to the inclusion of women by the Parliament, political parties and the 2007 Interim Constitution, but these sentiments have not been translated into reality.  

At the very minimum, women should occupy at least 33 per cent of positions in all state structures. But their participation is negligible and their rights are being violated. Women's representation is still below the 33 per cent threshold in the Cabinet, in constitutional bodies, in local and high level state structures.

Progressive change is what the Nepali people aspire toward, and hope for. It is about bringing an end to all forms of discrimination, oppression and suppression, and liberating the people. Women are not only impacted because of caste and class, but have been looked down upon due to prevailing patriarchal values. Women from all classes, castes and regions are suffering because of this. Even today, people do not trust women's capacity, and 'rulers' are still not ready to give leadership positions to women or have them participate in state restructuring. This shows the lack of commitment in providing full rights to the people.

Although inclusive proportional representation is the basis for equality in the new constitution, different political parties present in the CA, and their members, have divergent opinions over the issue. Inclusive proportional representation of women was raised strongly by the Women's Caucus and the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, the committee under whose jurisdiction the issue of participation falls.

Myself, I have had a bitter experience of the three major political parties, viz. UCPN (Maoist), CPN (UML) and Nepali Congress settling for only 33 per cent representation of women.

Early in the reform process, the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles proposed that women's representation be at 33 per cent. Although this proposal was prepared with the consensus of the leaders of the major political parties, the Committee did not pass such a proposal and it remained under discussion.

As the Coordinator of Gender Sub-Committee and Women's Constitution Recommendation Sub-Committee of the Women's Caucus, I believed strongly in the right of women to participate based on the principle of proportional inclusion should be established as a fundamental right.

Consequently, we discussed the matter in depth. Leaders of most political parties are in favour of the 33 per cent minimum level.  Many people believe that women's representation in all state structures should be in 33 per cent of positions. Under such circumstances, it is challenging to establish women's rights to genuine inclusive proportional representation, which would ultimately mean securing more than 33 per cent representation.

The Women's Caucus formally adopted the principle of genuine inclusive proportional representation instead of the 33 per cent level. Hence, our focus is to remove references to 33 per cent from the first draft. The right of women to participate in all state structures on the basis of inclusive proportional representation was identified by the Women's Caucus as one of the most important issues.

This principle was included in the report of the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles. After extensive debate in the CA, the proposal was supported. It is now being worked on by the Constitutional Committee to reflect it in the new constitution. . The Women's Caucus – which has representatives from all political parties - has worked to guarantee in the new constitution women's rights to participation on the basis of proportional representation. While drafting recommendations on behalf of the Women's Caucus, we discussed the importance of including in the new constitution mechanisms to bring an end to all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

To date, three major issues have been identified by the Constitutional Committee. These are: state restructuring, electoral processes and governance. Although women's participation has been generally accepted, we still need to ensure a focus on how to include women fully in all state structures. In addition, it is still important to discuss how to make the electoral process fully proportional and inclusive.

Equality should be the minimum criterion for the new constitution. Let us ensure we have a new constitution, as demanded by the people, ensuring equal rights for all.

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