“Women's Progress Will Take Time To Trickle Down” Bandana Rana

With over thirty years of work to establish gender equality, end domestic violence against women and empower women, Bandana Rana has become an icon of women's movement in Nepal as well as around the world. Her contribution to the movement as a founding member of Sancharika Samuha and Sathi at the national level got her elected last year to the UN CEDAW Committee as a member for four years. As Nepal is celebrating the International Women's Day, Rana spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT about the transformation of women in Nepal. Excerpts:

Issue Name : Vol.10,No. 14. March 10,2017, (Falgun 27, 2073)

Following the promulgation of the new constitution, three women are leading the three organs of the state, as the President, Chief Justice and Speaker of the Legislature Parliament. But the state of women in remote parts of Nepal has not changed much. How do you look at this disparity? Why did the success not trickle down?

I think this is a starting point. It is a great progress that women are in the three top positions. But this alone is not going to change the status of all Nepalese women overnight. For the current progress to trickle down at the community level or grass root level, it will take ages. What I can say, however, is that this is a significant step Nepal has taken.

How do you compare this with the past?

When we grew up, women did not have the decision-making role even in the kitchen. Women did have a subordinate role. One worked to please the other. That was the culture. You never saw a role model and never saw women in decision making positions. Ninety percent of the people grew up in that culture. There were factions of women who rebelled against that trend. Now I see that the trend has changed. Young girls, who are growing up now, have three role models to see.

How do you look at the role of culture?

Our culture was biased against women and girls. Even during the Dashain festival, I used to get the blessing like Saubhagyabati bhava, to get a good husband and to be loyal and please him. However, my brother used to get different blessings, to be a big leader and reach high positions. Now that has changed and the visibility of women has increased. Girls are growing with bigger aspirations. Yet, it will take time for this change to trickle down to the community and village level.

How do you look at the rise of women in the top positions now?

These three positions did not come overnight. This is a result of decades of a vibrant civil society movement. In the initial phase, the parties would not have thought of fielding women as candidates for president or speaker. However, the parties are now doing so. In a stringent patriarchal society, it takes time for women to come up. I agree that this trend has yet to trickle down as a dividend but there is a big change where young women now have  role models, to aspire to be a decision maker.

Among many changes, you yourself have been elected as a member of UN CEDAW committee. How do you see the exposure of Nepalese women in the international arena?

I am honored to be a first Nepali woman to be in such a position in UN CEDAW, which is a very important committee as it deals with the issue of discrimination and violence against women as well as dealing with women's rights and empowerment. There is a rare occasion when Nepalese women have had an opportunity to represent their lot to the UN global committees and make policies. Of course, Nepalese women’s exposure in the international level has increased. I have been working for almost three decades against discrimination of women. I worked with the community, at the government level and finally the international level.

What actually helped you to get elected in such a high position?

Having gained the kind of knowledge by working at the grass root level and listening to the voices of survivors of domestic violence through Sathi, I gave a candidacy from Nepal and I was elected at the committee representing Nepal. Although I was elected in CEDAW, I served in an independent capacity. Once you get elected, you serve at CEDAW in an independent capacity. However, I am still known as Nepali woman.

What is your experience working in Nepal?

Working in this sector, I have to show there are so many things I have done in Nepal. I am representing women of all South Asian countries, who worked hard to serve the women, fought for women. All my works, including verdicts and reports, represent what women like in South Asia and Nepal. This is the forum where I represent the voices, the aspirations, the needs and concerns of many Nepali women, including other South Asians.

Despite the success of women's movement and progress in Nepal, there are certain discriminations in the provisions of the new constitution in terms of providing citizenship. How do you look at this?

Our current constitution is a new one, which was promulgated in 2015. I think it is a progressive constitution. Progressive in the sense that compared to many other constitutions, we are ahead in it in terms of women's rights. As a recent constitution, we could have taken this opportunity to make it more progressive. I have to accept the fact that we failed in certain aspects, including in the citizenship. According to CEDAW, article 9, women's right to nationality and passing on her citizenship to her children is a right. We have failed here and our constitution is not able to address the issue fully and completely. I do agree that we are unable to end discrimination against women in terms of the citizenship issue.

The state of girls has changed with the literacy rate going up alongside progress in health indicators and employment. How do you look at this?

It is a good trend. Nepal also won the MDG award on the girl child education. We have done pretty well in terms of health, including the reproductive rights. These are very progressive trends Nepal has been going through as per UN Global policy. This trend will continue as we go to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. We will do very well in these areas.

What do you suggest for a quicker change?

There are still many areas where the discrimination against women continues. In the areas of domestic violence, the situation is still worse. Until and unless you make your home secure, you cannot reduce violence against women. Women suffer violence at the hands of their own people, their partners, husbands and others. When you talk about sexual violence, look at the rate with which rape has been increasing. A new form of sexual violence is appearing. Young girls are raped. We have laws and policies but they are not implemented. We have impunity and perpetrators go scot-free. Look at trafficking, there are strong mafias, you know, you know the perpetrators but you cannot book them. You cannot book the highest level of mafia. These are the things to address.

How conducive is the environment?

The changes are there but we don’t have the environment to acknowledge the changes. Women seek better positions, are respected, have dignity and have identity. We need to have policies where impunity ends and discrimination ends, where home becomes a secure place. There is the need to have a monitoring mechanism and implementation mechanism so perpetuators are booked and punished stringently.

What are your views on economic empowerment?

Economic empowerment is the most important aspect. No matter what we talk about women empowerment, until and unless you have money in hand, women have little chance to participate in decision making. Women will not have a say on many issues and women will not be going to have the respect they deserve.

How have you looked at the changes since the celebration of the first international women's day till now?

I see the voice is much louder. I see amplified voices, not only in national level but also in district levels, where I mostly work. Some of the voices are much louder in the districts than at the national level. Women have learnt to work collectively and women have learnt to institutionalize, amplify their voices collectively. Women are able to bring out the incidents of domestic violence in the public. It is no longer a private affair. Women are able to talk about sexual violence and other forms of violence. Could you imagine talking these issues 30 years ago in public?

How are you celebrating the day this year?

This year we are celebrating the day with a new campaign. You talk about the women's nationality and identity. In support of that we are launching the social media campaign through the Facebook, call my mother, my identity. We are calling everyone to give identity of your mother, by changing the surname of your mother. If my mother's surname is Kunwar, I would be calling myself as Bandana Kunwar from March 8. This is in support of the mother’s identity. 

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