Thursday, May 22, 2008
At 8 a.m. we gathered in the SAP-Nepal offices, reunited with Naresh Phuyal, our interpreter from 2005-2006, Anil and Niraj Khanal, the SAP-Nepal staff who had been instrumental in arranging the logistics and outreach for the two Kathmandu workshops. A flurry of printing and photocopying, and we were ready when the first participants arrived at 9:30 a.m.
Sixteen women from 4 parties participated in the day-long participatory workshop, “Gender Power: Activating a Common Agenda.” Aker and Taylor were welcomed by the experienced politicians of the Inter-Party Women’s Alliance (IPWA), a consortium of women from the major parties who invited the IPJ to convene this workshop, as well as newcomers from the recently formed Madhesis People’s Rights Forum (MJF). In the shifting political landscape leading up to the constituent assembly (CA) elections, the MJF emerged as the major party representing the historically marginalized southern Terai region, and earned a comparable seats to the past leading parties of Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Lenin (CPN-ML).
“It is a pleasure to welcome back Dee and Laura, you are like a family member in Nepal” Prativa Rana, Central Committee, RPP, former chair of IPWA
The workshop “Gender Power: Activating a Common Agenda” encouraged new leaders to find the common agenda of women from diverse experiences and help in developing a common “language” to build support for and advance common concerns. The Election Commission called for greater representation of women and how it is time for women to consider the constituencies they represent by gender as well as party. Through exercises and case studies, participants’ examined common challenges and strategies to address them when women come to power.
The program is a continuation of the IPJ Nepal Project which has been conducted with Nepali senior and emerging political leaders, civil society spokespersons, and women representatives since 2003. Programs are designed to enhance personal skills, build broader constituencies for democratic participation, and establish collaborations to address root causes and consequences of conflict.
After Taylor provided a brief review of the impact of the Women, Politics and Peace Working for a Just Society series over the past three years, Aker share a case study of Uganda. Illuminating how women were able to get gender on the agenda for the constitution, Aker described the process, product and impact of the women’s movement on democratic change in Uganda. “Women decided that if a new constitution was going to be written, they would have to go out and make sure that everybody, understood what a government was supposed to and what a constitution could do.” The Ugandan women’s movement led the educational campaigns about constituent assemblies, as well we efforts to collect the voices of people to inform the new document. Through multiple means, e.g., radio, print, TV, etc., the women said, “We are going to be the bridges, the voices from the people, to the political leaders.”
“We are going to be the bridges, the voices from the people, to the political leaders.”
In the next exercise, the participants worked in small groups to use the analytic framework for understanding the conflict in Uganda, to adapt and apply to understand the current transition in Nepal. “We haven’t felt security in Nepal,” shared one of the participants, however, we hope the constitution will “help to build a successful nation.” “The role played by civil society organizations can be further strengthened to make a good constitution,” another participant added. Key issues across the small groups discussions were insecurity, mechanisms to implement necessary legislation, the dissemination of information to the people, transparency, the commitment of the political parties, honesty of the part of the government, and free and strong fair judiciary. One participant concluded, “We are thankful for what you bring, I had no idea about Uganda until now. We will do our best to bring this information to our parties.”
After common priorities emerged during the previous exercise, Taylor shared some key consultation mechanisms to channel constituents’ voices to policymakers. Constitution-making is a “deliberative” process. Interim agreements, like the one Nepali leaders forged in 2006, help society to establish basic clarify basic legal rules and provide sufficient change from past root causes of conflict. A constitutional committee can help reframe a constitution from a “contract” to a “conversation” and carry out three key phases: civic education, popular consultation and synthesis of multiple contributions and submissions. This methodology helps increase public participation and promote an ownership model of civic engagement.
Through a media simulation, participants practiced asking local constituents about their interest and ideas for a new constitution based on the strengths and weaknesses of the 1990 constitution and the 2006 interim constitution, and summarized key points in 3 sentences. They brainstormed mechanisms to share this synthesis, including more traditional channels such as radio and television, but also SMS (cell phone texting) and local suggestion boxes at throughout VDCs.
Constitution-making processes can be transformation if given adequate resources and time to include a multitude of voices and perspectives. Public participation increases local ownership as well as the legitimacy of the final product. With wider societal support, it is more likely the impact of the constitution will be inclusive and empowering in light of the root causes of conflict.