Embracing Coexistence for Human Rights Protection and Development

Ganganarayan Shrestha

The Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) has been a leading advocate for human rights in Nepal since its establishment in 1989.”I pay my heartfelt tribute to the late respected Prakash Kafle, expressing my highest respect for him, as well as to the human rights activist Sushil Pyakurel, the founder of this organization with such a glorious history.”

I am personally indebted to INSEC for the virtues it instilled in me. “I would like to express my gratitude to INSEC and its leaders for the initiative they took to save my life after I was arrested on May 6, 1996, during the war and for their support until I was released from prison in 2000.” “I am here today because human rights organizations like INSEC stood up to protect my life by becoming defenders when I faced death several times.” I want to express my high respect to all those human rights organizations including INSEC. “While the history of human rights in the world is extensive, Nepal’s human rights history is relatively brief.” “The history of human rights in Nepal has been significantly curtailed due to 240 years of monarchy and 140 years of royal rule.” “With the end of the 30-year Panchayat rule, it appears that the groundwork for human rights in Nepal was laid following the promulgation of the 1990 Constitution of Nepal.”

The Constitution of 1990 appears to have established a multi-party system, an independent judiciary, fundamental rights, and incorporated some significant rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. These rights include the right to equality, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. However, despite the inclusion of fundamental human rights provisions in the constitution and laws, their practical implementation has not been taken very seriously. I can personally attest to this fact. Human society is inherently diverse, with divisions based on factors such as class, caste, gender, color, language, religion, and culture. This diversity represents a valuable asset to society. However, it is ironic that, both in our country and globally, we have yet to successfully make diversity the foundation of unity and harness its potential as a valuable societal asset. Human rights cannot be effectively promoted and protected until diversity becomes the foundation of unity, rather than a source of division.

In simpler terms, it is a fundamental human right to treat all individuals with humanity. In other words, every person should have the freedom to fully exercise all the rights inherent to being a human being.

The Constitution of Nepal 2015, promulgated by the Constituent Assembly, has established comprehensive provisions for the fundamental rights of human beings. This constitution grants all people access to all rights and freedoms.

Our constitution guarantees civil liberties, fundamental rights, human rights, child suffrage, periodic elections, full press freedom, an impartial judiciary, the right to live with dignity, and the right to freedom, among other rights and provisions.

Nepal is a party to various international treaties related to human rights, and the provisions of these treaties are enforceable under Nepalese law.In terms of the institutional structure, the list of rights has been delineated and allocated among the federal, state, and local levels to facilitate the promotion and protection of human rights. In addition, Constitutional bodies such as committees of the Federal Parliament, courts, the National Human Rights Commission, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Women’s Commission, the National Dalit Commission, the National Inclusion Commission, the Tribal Commission, the Madhesi Commission, the Tharu Commission, and the Muslim Commission have been established. Furthermore, organizations such as the War Association, Federation of Journalists, and Non-Governmental Organizations have been included to be represented in the monitoring committee for the human rights action plan and its implementation.

Structurally and legally, it appears that Nepal has established a strong framework for the promotion and protection of human rights. Our constitution is a federal, democratic, and republican constitution created with immense dedication and sacrifice.

Hence, this constitution is regarded as the best among all the constitutions ever promulgated in Nepal. It seems that it still needs to be revised to make it the best.

Political stability cannot be achieved until changes are made to the form of government and the electoral system. Peace and prosperity remain unattainable without such political stability.likewise, Human rights cannot be promoted and protected without peace and prosperity.

Certainly,  the prominent role of women in various political, social, cultural, and economic movements that have occurred in Nepal over time.

Women should naturally have full entitlement to benefit from all the changes that have transpired up to this point. However, when observing women’s participation, opportunities, access, and rights today, it’s evident that families, societies, political parties, and the state have not done justice to this cause.The proportional election system stipulated by the constitution has led to increased representation of women in politics. However, women’s leadership still faces challenges in direct elections and is not as widely accepted. This is done to establish fair competition even when there are disparities among participants. Competition typically occurs among equals, while reservation and privileges are mechanisms used to address disparities among unequal participants.

Earlier, I held the opinion that the electoral system should undergo a change. As long as the current mixed electoral system persists, it remains challenging for women, Dalits, and marginalized communities to secure direct representation. When analyzing the outcomes of the 2022 federal election, it becomes apparent that only 5 percent, or nine women, emerged as victors in the election, whereas 95 percent, or 156 men, secured seats in the election.

The present proportional representation system still falls short of ensuring complete justice for women and Dalits, and it may not do so in the foreseeable future. This is because, in the name of proportionality, the deliberate manner in which political party leaders nominate such individuals has undermined the very principle of proportionality itself. Therefore, to achieve proportional representation with equal competition for all, it is essential to change the current mixed election system and adopt a fully proportional election system.

The proportional representation system, including direct competition, means selecting representatives based on an equal representation in terms of ethnicity (nationality), region, and gender, in proportion to the population’s ratio, while having direct competition among different ethnicities (nationalities), classes, regions, and genders.  By implementing this change, women would not need to compete directly with men, and Dalits would not have to compete with non-Dalits. In essence, competition would occur solely among equals.

Children are the leaders of the future. They represent raw potential, much like unshaped clay that can be molded according to our intentions and aspirations.

There hasn’t been sufficient discourse on child rights within our families, society, and state. Poverty and scarcity aren’t the sole causes; our mindset, beliefs, and cultural norms play a significant role.

To initiate change, our first priority should be transforming our mindset, beliefs, and cultural norms. This necessitates engaging in ample discussions and implementing the necessary methods to bring about these changes.

Hence, the Bagmati State government has implemented a program aimed at empowering housewives as an integral component of its policy and budget dedicated to women’s empowerment. Numerous women empowerment initiatives, such as the daughter-in-law scholarship program, have been sustained.  “Women first” is the slogan of the Bagmati state government. The plan of the provincial government is to make laws only by having a formal discussion with the relevant stakeholders. Despite the  challenges, these programs represent commendable efforts, and they are poised to yield positive improvements. It is essential to recognize that substantial and enduring change often requires structural reforms. Thus, I urge women to actively pursue initiatives aimed at bringing about such structural transformations.

In the context of women’s liberation, it is essential to focus on five specific aspects:

  1. Biological differences are inherent, while gender differences are socially constructed. Consequently, it is important for men to refrain from discriminating against women based on these biological distinctions, and for women to pursue gender equality without seeking to alter their biological characteristics in the pursuit of equality.
  2. Men and women are not just complementary but can also be competitors in various aspects of life. So, besides the natural roles people have due to their abilities, creating additional roles specifically for women is unfair and should be stopped, as it exploits women.
  3. Women should enjoy equal rights to men in terms of economic opportunities and social status. Additionally, it’s essential to ensure that individuals receive equal pay for equal work, recognizing the value of household labor. We must work to eliminate economic and social discrimination based on gender.
  4. Gender-based political discrimination must be eradicated. Women should be granted equal rights (with specific accommodations when necessary), unbiased access, and equal opportunities. Additionally, they should be represented proportionally in all government institutions.
  5. Discrimination, humiliation, exploitation, and degrading treatment of women based on traditional and superstitious beliefs in the society, culture, and religion should be put to an end.

It is not feasible for women to achieve the five objectives mentioned on their own. Women’s liberation cannot be achieved solely through opposition to men. In my view, women should not only protest but also be prepared to revolt when necessary to secure their rights and equality. The issue isn’t necessarily against men as individuals, but rather against harmful expressions of masculinity. Not all men are patriarchal.

Women’s empowerment can be greatly facilitated by the active support of men who stand against patriarchy and advocate for gender equality.
(Shrestha serves as the Minister of Internal Affairs and Law in the Bagmati State Government.)