It is a bare hunting ground for researchers, looking for women’s political awakening over the previous two centuries, which was my remit. For one thing, the meaning of ‘politics’ has moved on from engagement in Machiavellian machinations in the shadow of a powerful male to help grasp power for that powerful male or one’s sons. Usually this kind of politics was the prerogative of aristocratic women and one didn’t have to look beyond the Kathmandu Valley to find them. The two queens of Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah are a case in point. Both schemed to get the throne for their sons and they do not fit neatly into my remit. Every aristocrat the world over had a ‘strong’ scheming powerful grandmother. To become an aristocrat one had to have descended from someone who was willing to knife someone else in the back and take his place. I think the Bard of Avon made this quite clear and we don’t need tortuous explanations.
My focus in this particular paper is based on my own research since the early 1980s and involved both well thought out and written documentation and one on one interviews with women who thought of themselves as politicians. Indeed, I thought so also because my definition of politician is someone who is knowledgeable about society, sees what is unsatisfactory and what can be improved and becomes active in seeking support to begin to put things right. If you don’t recognise that as the way good governance begins, then you have never met a decent, honest politician, not surprising in the 21st century!
Post 1950 and up to the period of the Seventh Five-year Plan, a handful of women awoke to political participation. Unfortunately, it was all too easy to solicit their involvement in income-generating activities backed by welfare initiatives considering that most women realised that earning their own money gave them power in the household, improved the lives of their children, and helped them throw off dependence on men. Efforts by various women's organizations, donors, and projects to improve the conditions of women were immersed in welfare activities with some income-generating components from early on in this period. Even today women's development philosophies have a long way to go before women achieve the equal status that is their right. The current economic (monetary) perspectives are not the correct value system for the 21st century
Historical, for the purposes of this paper, includes the years that saw the beginning of the women's movement in Nepal; the years that saw a succession of politically-motivated movements overtaken by welfare motives, and the years that led up to the Jana Andolan of 1990. I shall concentrate upon the aspects of political participation and economic involvement as development. Readers should, however, bear in mind that one's perspective on development might differ from that of another. In actual fact, in terms of defining economic involvement, I am falling back on modernisation theory which relies heavily on the idea that transforming traditional economies from those based on affiliation norms to modem economies (meritocracies) based on achievements rather than social status will bring about development. Unfortunately economic involvement and access to their own earnings on the part of women has not, in extremely patriarchal societies, led to the changes presumed upon. It rather led to lukewarm 'women in development' measures in which women's role was still seen as principally family oriented but in which they were supposed to take up extra income-generating activities in their 'spare time'.
Is development simply change or a process of growth? Turning the question on its head, let us argue that whether or not there has been a process of growth will determine whether the situation/status of women in Nepal has developed or simply changed.
The early conceptualisation of women in development in itself is a conceptualisation that relegated women to a minority status. In fact, even currently, it is not uncommon to read learned economic development treatise that refer to minority groups 'such as the poor and women'. The irony is that neither the poor nor women are minorities. And too, the idea of women as a commodity to be developed is bizarre. It had to be a donor-driven concept. It spoke/speaks the language of colonisation and certainly not the language of equity. What a confidence trick women's development has been! A 'crumbs from the rich man's table' strategy used to neutralise an early dynamism in the first decade after 1951- a dynamism that could have brought about a much needed social revolution to support a fledgling democracy; a social revolution without war, without the guillotine! …….to be continued