By men, for men
- Male politicians curtailing women’s rights should know we make up half the voting population
JUL 11 – The draft of the new constitution has been a huge let down as far as women’s rights are concerned. Instead of coming up with groundbreaking reformative laws, it has backtracked from some of the rights that were already enshrined in the Interim Constitution.
Law, people say, is a reflection of society, and the provisions in the draft proves this to be true. The provisions in the draft constitution seem to mirror the mindset of the people.
Article 43 (2) in the draft constitution specifies only some components of reproductive health, stating. “all women have the right to safe motherhood and reproduction.”
One reason for this androcentric draft could be the flawed nature of the formation of the draft committee. It failed to incorporate a proportional representation of women. No wonder the committee had no qualms in curtailing women’s reproductive health rights and issues such as a woman’s choice to marry or not marry, choice of sexual partner, access to contraception, family planning, safe motherhood and appropriate health facilities during and after pregnancy, among other things. Such rights also allow women to make decisions about unwanted pregnancies and the number of children they want to have.
These issues were simply not important enough for the androcentric committee. Why give women abortion rights? After all, that would mean that women get to make crucial decisions regarding their bodies.
Why give rights?
In many ways, the draft is reflective of what Nepali society thinks of a woman’s body, that it is not hers to control. That is the only plausible explanation for curtailing reproductive rights. The committee members must have thought that granting a woman the right to her body is a bad thing. The male-dominated committee must have thought, “What use would the husband be if the wife had the choice to decide whether to have a baby or not and how many babies to have?”
Worse still, the curtailing of women’s reproductive rights in the statute could also have a negative impact on the abortion bill, which is currently underway. Nepal legalised abortion in 2002, allowing women to abort pregnancies of up to 12 weeks.
Further, reproductive rights and citizenship rights are all interlinked to marriage. Traditionally, a woman migrates to her husband’s house after marriage. A man, on the other hand, ‘brings’ his wife to live with his family. This very mindset governs the provision of the unfair 15-year wait for men who marry Nepali women to get naturalised citizenship.
The perception that a woman has to be married in order to enjoy her rights seems to have driven lawmakers into curtailing reproductive health rights of women. Just look at the provision that specifies reproductive rights and safe motherhood on the same line. It seems as though patriarchal lawmakers do not even realise that unmarried women need access to contraception and abortion rights as much as married women do. Being single does not mean being celibate. So where is a woman’s right to safe sex, choice of sexual partner(s) and easy access to contraception? The draft is also silent about how a single woman will get access to her parental property.
Going by such regressive provisions, it seems as though lawmakers are either closing their eyes when faced with changing societal trends or simply trying to resist them. But lawmakers need to understand that women are no longer defined by their relation to men—as their daughters and wives. They have their own identities.Economic empowerment and reproductive rights will further ensure that they are not dependent on others.
No to you
The compromises made on women’s rights, if anything, makes it very clear that the new constitution is just old wine in a new bottle. And this is not enough for Nepali women. As the Constituent Assembly has begun to collect public opinion on the draft constitution, there is still time to change the regressive provisions. We must all speak against it from any platform we have access to.
This is where the small number of female leaders inside the Constituent Assembly can play a crucial role. They must all unite and raise the issue collectively. So far, we have heard very little protest from their side. We have also not seen the so-called top gun female leaders participate in the protest programmes held so far. There is an urgent need for them to join the cause and speak for women’s rights in any platform available to them.
Women constitute half the voting population of the country. If the male politicians who wield power continue to ignore these demands, the best tool to fight against them is the right to vote. They must know that they will not get away by playing foul on us. If you do away with our rights enshrined in the Interim Constitution, we will see you in the next election.
Can you afford to ignore half the voters?