Time to assess whether women leadership has been effective or is merely tokenistic.
Walking into a Ministry or Board Room Meeting or Panel Discussion in Nepal, the sparse presence of women at decision making levels is hard to ignore. Once you look at daily and more importantly professional life through gendered lens, it is indeed difficult to overlook the presence and dominance of men in the workspace.
In South Asia, Nepal is well known for the participation of women in the public sector. We can see women leadership in the role of the President, Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry and in Hotel Association of Nepal. Not discounting these landmark achievements, we need to assess whether such leadership has been effective or is merely tokenistic.
In terms of legal framework, the Constitution provides for equality and positive discrimination for women. As per the Constitution, one third of the total number of members elected from each political party representing the Federal Parliament must be women. The Civil Service Act 1993 also states that there shall be a reservation of 33% in at least 45 posts. However this percentage is often diluted with political appointments, for example in the judiciary. Further, the Companies Act 2006, mandates that in a public company having female shareholders, there shall be at least one female Director in the Board of Directors out of minimum three to maximum eleven (11) BoDs.
However, the private sector is largely unregulated. Since women represent 51% of the population, the private sector needs to understand that any sort of development or progress without taking into account women is lopsided.
In order to understand why participation of women in the corporate world is still minimal, the role of a girl child and woman needs to be contexualised in Nepali society. To begin with, it is difficult to pin point to the gender bias that women face at different stages in their lives. As a girl child, access to education was and remains a fundamental issue. In fact, to analyse the presence of women in decision making levels at present, we would have to gauge the statistics of girls around 40 years ago. Deprivation of access to education translates to deprivation of opportunities as well in terms of employment, access to finance, and empowerment when these children grow up to become the young women entering the workforce.
As a young woman and fresh professional, there is immense societal pressure to get married and start a family. The focus tends to be on jobs that offer flexible hours and may not be as demanding in terms of effort, capital injection or commitment. In the mid-career level, although women’s participation in the economic sphere has increased, household responsibilities of women do not decrease thereby making employment an unfair play for women. Women are expected to be care givers, nurturers and home makers, with or without a job. In addition to their day time jobs, women are also expected to uphold their responsibilities of a mother and homemaker.
This systemic discrimination translates into fewer numbers of women “at the top”. The answer to why there aren’t enough women at management levels isn’t simple. Women not only need a supporting environment from family, they also need positive reinforcement to continue and thrive in their jobs. Years of historical deprivation of access to education and opportunities cannot be ignored as they culminate in adding to the pool of number of women at the workforce.
To address this situation, the private sector, and more importantly the corporate sector, needs to make extra effort to be inclusive by re-assessing their recruitment policies and adding diversity, creating enabling work environments for women, and having human resource policies that are women friendly such as paid maternity and paternity leave, crèche at the workplace, flexi-hours, etc.
A hand-picked survey of banks, corporate houses and law firms in Nepal confirms that women’s participation remains minimal. However, there is some progress. It is promising to see that at present, there is gender parity at primary and secondary education levels. In the legal sector especially positive changes are afoot. The sex ratio in law schools has been skewed towards girls in the last decade. The effects of this trend on the profession will reflect in the years to come. In our firm specifically, it is encouraging to see the number of women choosing law as a profession.
Recognising that article is only addressing the gender binary, and that too in the corporate sector, this article aims to highlight the fact that women’s participation in the corporate sector is still an issue for discussion due to the fact that patriarchy is systemic.