By Aakriti Gupta
Elm Staff Writer
Nepal, known officially as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a small country located in South Asia. With a population of 27 million, it is located in the Himalayas bordered by China in the north and south and in the west by India. On Oct. 28, Nepal elected its second president and its first woman president, Bidhya Devi Bhandari. She is a communist campaigner who participated actively in the Nepal’s fight to end a 240-year-old Hindu monarchy.
The 54-year-old woman is currently the Vice-Chair of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) and was the defense minister of Nepal from 2009 to 2011. As a close ally of the new Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, she has been a political activist in a hugely male dominated society. In interviews before she gained office, she told her story about her time in the political sphere. Bhandari was never interested in the world of politics until 1979 when she joined a student movement after a friend recommended it to her. Her ambitions reached great heights when she fell in love with the ideas and aspirations of Madan Bhandhari, who she went on to marry in the future. Bhandari was an iconic communist leader who became the party’s general secretary and worked greatly towards turning Nepal into a republic. He was mysteriously killed in a car accident in 1993 and this incident was a turning point in his wife’s political career. Her husband’s death led her to join the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist and claimed an active role as a politician. Since then, she has achieved great success due to her determination and the sympathy a widow of an iconic politic figure.
According to The Independent, Bhandari believes that her election marked a first step towards a “guarantee of equality” within Nepal. She proved her commitment to diversity when she elected Onsari Ghartu Magar, the parliament’s first female speaker. Bhandari is a strong advocator of women’s rights and has been credited for pushing for one-third of the members of parliament to be women. “Nepal has been trying to shift from a traditionally male-dominated society, where women are mostly limited to working at homes or on farms, to one in which women have equal access to opportunities and legal rights,” according to The Associated Press. She has also lobbied for the requirement of either the president or vice president of Nepal to be a women in the form of a formal stipulation in the constitution of Nepal.
Bhandari’s was by a margin of 327-214 against Congress Party leader Kul Bahadur Gurung. Though there does exist a majority, there have been many who have criticized her campaign and work. There are some questions regarding her feminist credentials as she actively supports citizen laws that are anti-women. Her words and actions have been observed to confuse many as there seems to exist a lack of parity between the two. As president, she is the supreme commander of the armed forces, which will restrict her from indulging in politics and advocacy of women empowerment despite that being a huge part of her campaign. Bhandari is under great pressure as she has to fight to ensure that the new constitution represents all citizens from a diversity of ethnic groups, especially the groups residing in the south of Nepal who have demands for more territory and rights for the ethnic states. This year has been an exceptionally difficult year for the country due to the widespread destruction caused by an earthquake in April 2015, which killed over 9,000 people and injured more than 23,000. Rebuilding the economy is speculated to be at a cost of $5 billion, 20 percent of Nepal’s GDP. Gaining office in a time like this has increased the pressure on Bhandari which she has to work through to create a positive influence as a female leader in a male-dominated society.
There are major hurdles that Bhandari has to cross in order to create a positive image for woman as leaders. This moment has made its place in Nepal’s history where the second elected president is a woman, whereas in the U.S., a much more developed and progressive country, has not been able to elect a single female president even after 43 male presidents, providing everybody with some food for thought.