Madhesi Women Face Challenges in Nepal
Madhesi Women Face Challenges in Nepal
Within all communities, including Madhesi communities, women face challenges in order to participate in public life in Nepal, says IAN MARTIN
Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal, addressed the Madhesi Women’s National Conference in Chitwan on 17 August 2007. He emphasized an inclusive polity in Nepal and the role of marginal women groups. The conference was organised by the Center for Women and Politics.
I am very pleased to be here with you today in Chitwan. Your gathering is a significant event in the democratic process of preparing for the Constituent Assembly election, as well as for the wider democratic transition in Nepal. Achieving the goals of your conference, to promote the political participation and inclusion of Madhesi women in the Constituent Assembly election and constitution making, will be a major contribution to the peace process. I congratulate the organizers of this important conference, the Center for Women and Politics, and all participants.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in his January report to the Security Council, prior to the establishment of UNMIN, that “if Nepal fails to meaningfully include traditionally marginalized groups in the peace process and in the election, and in the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly, the country will lose a crucial opportunity to harness the strength and vision of its own people and leave some of the key underlying causes of the conflict unaddressed.” In establishing UNMIN, the Security Council expressly recognized the need “to pay special attention to the needs of women, children and traditionally marginalized groups in the peace process, as mentioned in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.”
In 2000, the UN Security Council passed its Resolution 1325. This was the first resolution in United Nations’ history that specifically recognizes the differential impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the contribution of women to conflict resolution and peace-building, and their needs – particularly in the constitution, electoral system, police and judiciary. The Resolution built on the commitment of the United Nations to stand for gender equality and to promote women’s participation in politics and political processes, as signaled in the groundbreaking 1995 Beijing women’s conference and the Platform for Action which it agreed upon. Nepal, as a proud and longstanding Member State of the UN, has a responsibility to implement Resolution 1325 in its own peace process.
The Constituent Assembly election provides both a particular responsibility and a particular opportunity to recognize and facilitate the contribution of women in the peace process. The electoral system for the Constituent Assembly election places special responsibility on political parties to be inclusive in their party lists, both in relation to traditionally marginalized groups and minorities, and in relation to women. It is essential that political parties fulfill these responsibilities whole-heartedly, in order to secure the representation of women and their meaningful participation in the Constituent Assembly and in all other aspects of peace-building and the democratic transition. Meaningful participation means participation where women are free and welcome to actively voice their opinions in an equal manner to others, rather than being a silent quota partner; it also means that the representation of women should include women from the different ethnic, caste and regional groups of Nepal.
Within all communities, including Madhesi communities, women face challenges in order to participate in public life. Political parties, organizations and community groups must face this challenge so that Madhesi women are able to play an active role in political life at the national and local level, and so ensure that there is effective representation in all aspects of decision-making in the process of democratic transition in Nepal. It is important, too, that the representation of Madhesi women in public life include women from the diverse backgrounds of Madhesi communities, including Dalit women and others traditionally marginalized within Madhesi communities.
UNMIN is focused on three main areas of work to support the peace process: monitoring the management of arms and armies, supporting the Election Commission in the planning, preparation and conduct of the Constituent Assembly election, and assisting in monitoring the ceasefire to ensure a free and fair atmosphere for the election. In mandating UNMIN, the Security Council recognized the need to pay special attention to needs of women and traditionally marginalized groups in the peace process, reflecting the commitments of the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement as well as the aims of Resolution 1325. UNMIN regional offices will each have a Gender Adviser and a Social Affairs Adviser to ensure that all our efforts take into account these perspectives and needs.
In addition, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal has a strong mandate to monitor the human rights situation in order to protect human rights, including women’s rights and those of traditionally marginalized groups. Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Nepal earlier this year and highlighted the difficulties faced by women in Nepal when they seek protection or redress through the legal system in Nepal, especially victims of sexual violence. She pointed to the challenges faced by Nepali women in their pursuit of justice, including “stigmatization, lack of support structures, protection and legal aid systems and lack of investigations and punishment of perpetrators.” The United Nations must do all it can to help overcome these challenges, but nothing will achieve more than more women in decision-making bodies at all levels of Nepali society.
The holding of the election in a conducive climate still faces major challenges. As women participants here come from twenty districts across the Terai, I am sure that many of you are confronted on a daily basis with this challenge. UNMIN, and indeed the Secretary-General, have repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring through dialogue that historically marginalized groups – Madhesis, Janajatis, Dalits, women and others – can accept that their legitimate demands for representation will be met by through the electoral system. Last week, I welcomed the announcement of a positive conclusion to dialogue between Janajati representatives and the Government. Reaching a positive outcome in the continuing dialogue between Madhesi representatives and the Government on the electoral system is essential in order to move forward with Constituent Assembly election preparations. Such dialogue is also essential to the challenge of assuring public security, especially in the eastern Terai. I welcome the recognition by many political leaders that the creation of public security and conditions conducive for the election in all districts and villages requires not just better policing, but above all political cooperation, not just in Kathmandu but even more crucially at the local level. Women, including Madhesi women, have an important role to play in this political cooperation at all levels of Nepali society in order to help create conditions which allow all parties – I stress all parties, not only the eight parties – to conduct their activities in all districts from now on without facing intimidation and violence.
Ensuring representation and meaningful participation of Madhesi women in the Constituent Assembly election and constitution-making are important goals which will contribute significantly to the peace process, and to building lasting peace and democracy in Nepal. Once again, I congratulate you on the significant step forward in this process which this conference represents.
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