Since moving to Kathmandu I’ve spent most of my time helping the Madheshi Women’s Advocacy Forum (MWAF) get up and running. The MWAF was created as a result of the Madheshi Women’s National Conference held by Sarita Giri (both written about in my earlier blogs), and is a network of grassroots women leaders in districts across the Terai region dedicated to the social, economic, and political empowerment of Madheshi women.
The immediate initiative of the MWAF is to help Madheshi women’s political empowerment during the upcoming Constitutional Assembly Election. We have three short term goals:
1. To push for large numbers of Madheshi women candidates in constituencies across the Terai.
2. To educate Madheshi women at local levels about the upcoming election and democracy in general.
3. To mobilize voters to support qualified Madheshi women candidates and get them elected.
Right now we are implementing a 3-phase plan focused on the first goal.
To keep up the momentum from the National Conference and to begin working toward our goal of getting Madheshi women on the ballot we scheduled a MWAF National Steering Committee meeting in Kathmandu (Phase 1). On 9-11 September we brought the women leaders to Kathmandu from each of the 21 districts to launch the national campaign, “Win with Madheshi Women,” and for organizing sessions about Phase 2. The campaign launch was a big success and brought together the press, women leaders from many backgrounds, and high-level political party members to offer their support for the movement.
THE MWAF NATIONAL STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS UNVEILING A POSTER DEPICTING MADHESHI WOMEN CALLING FOR PEACE, SOCIAL JUSTICE, AND DEMOCRACY.
The second part of the National Steering Committee Meeting was sessions to help district leaders plan for Phase 2: District Level “Accountability Meetings.” The purpose of these meetings is to pressure local chapters of political parties to commit to running Madheshi female candidates.
The outcome of the planning sessions was a little more mixed than the campaign launch. To begin with, the mixed electoral system of proportional representation and direct election being used in Nepal’s coming election is complicated even for those familiar with democratic processes, let alone people who are entirely new to the practice of voting.
On top of that, it turns out that the concepts and strategies we are trying to impart to our district leaders are quite challenging. Examples include strategically playing political parties against each other to increase the number of women candidates they commit to running and identifying for potential candidates that are currently not involved in party politics yet that might appeal to a wide range of people. The task of helping these women influence a system they don’t fully understand combined with the fact that (like most groups) there is a range of participants, from superstar to those just along for the ride, made our sessions less of a resounding success than I would have liked.
STRATEGY SESSION OF THE MWAF NATIONAL STEERING COMMITTEE
An additional problem I’m struggling with is the lack of original and critical thinking done by many of our district leaders. There seems to be a very strong cultural propensity in Nepal to defer to hierarchy – and I’ve experienced this being particularly intense among women. (Sarita is incredibly different in this regard, and I think this is why I appreciate working with her so much.)
As much as Sarita and I tried to give our district leaders theory to guide their own strategy formation, practically we ended up needing to be a lot more directive in providing specific tactics and even much more basic background information. Coming from a teaching background I understand the need to first teach to students and then guide them w/ varying levels of support before they can do something independently. Yet for some reason, working with adults makes this process seem unnecessary. The reality is that it is just as crucial, if not more so with adults, and I think if I can stay in that mindset it will help a lot.
Despite the difficulties of the planning sessions, the ongoing challenge of long distance communication in Nepal (ie. phone/fax), and the highly turbulent current political situation, our District Accountability meetings are scheduled to start from tomorrow. No doubt some will flop, but I do think there is the potential for many to be a success. The political parties are scheduled to publish their candidate lists on 30 September. Hopefully the District Accountability Meetings combined with our upcoming National Accountability Meeting (Phase 3) will produce lists loaded with quality Madheshi Women Candidates. Keep your fingers crossed for us…
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Sep 20th, 2014