Data Reveals Local Elections a Disaster for Gender Equality

October 27, 2017

Bhola Paswan, The Record, 24 Oct 2017

In May, June and September 2017, Nepal conducted local elections to elect a total of 35,041 local representatives across 753 local levels including 6 metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 276 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities. 

This was the first local election since the promulgation of the 2015 constitution, and came two decades after the last one held during the civil war. It also took place against the backdrop of discontent regarding the new constitution, particularly on federalism and state restructuring. Since representation of minorities is the primary goal of Nepal’s state restructuring, in this series of data stories, we begin by analyzing the results of the election for newly created local bodies. 

Why is this important? The 2015 constitution of Nepal, Article 38(4) gives women the right to proportional representation in all levels of governance. The 2011 census shows that women make up 51.5% of the population of Nepal. The Election Commission had mandated that 40.4% of all nominees seats be reserved for women, and this included the rule that between mayor and deputy mayor, and between chair and deputy chair of rural municipalities, parties had to field one woman candidate. Similarly, at the ward committee level with four member seats and one ward chair, the parties had to have at least two women ward members, one of them had to be a Dalit.

Even with quotas, men outnumber women

Despite the 50% quota for mayor, chair and deputy positions, and two of the four ward member seats set aside for women, men still outnumber women in the 35,041 thousand local government positions. 

Gender distribution comparison between newly elected local representatives and national population

Gender distribution comparison between newly elected local representatives and national population

Women were elected to very few top positions

The results show that women won as deputies instead of mayors and chairpersons. Only 2% of the mayor and chair positions out of the total 753 went to the women, while 91% of the deputy positions went to women. 

Representation of women in the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chair and Deputy Chair positions.

Representation of women in the mayor, deputy mayor, chair and deputy chair positions.

One percent of ward chairs are women

For the posts without mandated gender quotas (the two open competition ward committee member seats and the ward chair seat) women’s representation is negligible. Out of the 13,484 non-quota ward member positions, only 2% went to women. Similarly, out of the total 6742 ward chair seats, women won only 1%. This is the lowest representation of women across the various local government posts.

Women's representation in the ward chair and ward member posts

Women’s representation in the ward chair and ward member posts

Ethnic composition of women representatives

Ethnic composition of women local representatives

A total of 14,339 women are part of the local government. Among them, 47.4% are Dalits, 23.5% are Khas Arya women, 19.9% are Janajati, 8% Madhesi, and 1.3% Muslim. Seven out of 263 mayor seats were won by women, among them 6 are Khas Arya, and 1 is Madhesi. Similarly, the Chair position had 11 women, of which 6 were Khas-Arya and 5 Janajati.  Dalits appear significant, but outside of the Dalit women quota, their presence barely registers.

Ethnic composition of women representatives across the various local posts

Madhesi women are not represented as well as Hill women; similarly Terai Dalits (who got 23%) are not as well represented as Hill Dalits (who got 77%) in the Dalit Woman Ward Member post.

Ethnic distribution across parties

Dalit women have a large presence among women representatives, and this is because of the Dalit Woman Ward Member post. If we only consider the other seats, Khas Arya and Janajati women have the biggest presence in the mainstream parties. The smaller parties that lean towards identity have high representation of Madhesi and Muslim women but minimal presence of Khas and Janajati women.  

Ethnic composition of women representatives by party

The Dalit seat

The 6567 Dalit Woman Ward Member seats filled by the parties show the smaller parties prioritizing Madhesi Dalit women over Hill Dalits.

Distribution of Pahad and Terai Dalit for the Dalit woman ward member seat across parties

Political affiliations of women representatives

Political affiliation of women representatives by ethnicity

When we analyze the data in terms of political affiliation per ethnicity, we see that the vast majority of Khas, Janajati and Dalit women representatives who have been voted in are from the three major parties: UML, Nepali Congress, and Maoists. Madhesi and Muslim women representatives got their ticket from a wider range of parties.

Women’s marginalization continues

Results of this local election show that women are able to fill a certain number of posts because of the quotas, but they rarely enjoy positions of power, whether it’s the mayor of a town, chair of a rural municipality, or the chair of a ward. Men dominate both in terms of numbers and executive positions.  

The representation of women belonging to different ethnicities is not uniform either. Dalit women have a large presence, again because of the Dalit Women Ward Member post, but they have negligible presence among non-Dalit quota seats, and are completely absent from the three executive positions of mayor, chair and ward chair. In the non-Dalit quota seats, Khas Arya women dominate, followed closely by Janajatis, and then Madhesis, Dalits and Muslims. 

In conclusion, our analysis shows that despite the promise of state restructuring, women continue to be denied political power at the local level. 

All charts by Supriya Manandhar