News & Events

Event Date:
Event Type: News & Events
Event Location: IIDS campus

4th Episode: Movie on the House

The Institute for Integrated Development Studies (IIDS) hosted its 4th Movie on the House (MOTH) series on 2nd September 2022. The documentary broadcasted was “Knock Down the House''. The program commenced with introductory remarks from Mr Samar SJB Rana, Senior Research Assistant at IIDS. Mr. Rana was the moderator for the session. After the screening, an interactive discussion was held with Ms Manushi Yami Bhattarai, a political activist and Ms Ranju Darshana, a politician.

The documentary was released on January 27, 2019, and was directed by Rachel Lears. The movie follows the journey of four women who are contesting the 2018 congressional district election in the USA. The documentary highlights their personal struggles, challenges and also the success of these women. It portrays them as strong and independent candidates who are not intimidated by the patriarchal society.

In the last two decades, women’s participation in Nepal’s political landscape has increased due to various constitutional provisions. However, women are sidelined to mere participatory political roles rather than leading meaningful policy changes or engaging in major decision-making processes for the country. Given the difference between the west and east in terms of their culture and society, women in both societies are tellingly treated in a similar manner. The speakers emphasized the struggles and challenges of being a woman in politics.

Dismissal of Women

To initiate the discussion, Dr. Pyakuryal posed a question to the two speakers which were premised on the issue of dismissal of women in various professional settings. In most co-existing places, women are often viewed through a preconceived notion of not having enough knowledge or experience. Thus, they are usually sidelined or belittled for not being competent. This scenario is not any different in the political sphere in Nepal. Ms. Darshana explained her own experience by stating that meetings were intentionally held at late hours in the evening or on days like Teej or Rishi Panchami (festivals celebrated exclusively by women in Nepal) when it is almost impossible for women to attend.

Ms. Bhattarai added to Ms. Darshana’s point that the political parties in Nepal have always minimized women’s presence. She mentioned, “Ideally, we would expect the political parties to lead by example but political parties have failed to provide space to women and address their issues of concern dismissing them often”. Bhattarai also emphasized how the Nepali culture and society as a whole have made women more inclined to dismiss themselves and their thoughts in various instances.

Distinctions between Assertiveness and Abrasiveness

The qualities of a leader are based on various masculine traits including assertiveness, which are generally associated with men. But when women leaders embody similar traits, they are labelled for being abrasive. Ms.Bhattarai echoed this hypocrisy, that when assertiveness enhances the perception of power and higher competence in men, society disapproves of women who are loud and bold.

As per the speakers, they have been forced to be extra careful to understand where the thin line between being assertive and being abrasive is drawn. Nepal’s society and political scenario create a paradox for women where they have to be bold and loud to be heard but at the same time not too loud and bold. 

The primary reason for the negative connotation revolving around loud and strong women in politics stems from the patriarchal mindset among the party leaders. Ms. Bhattarai emphasized that men need to rise above the traditional mindset and prepare themselves to face women at the forefront and made a statement, “Women empowerment programs have been successful for women. But it has not been as efficient in our society because men are not yet prepared to face strong, independent, courageous and bold women. They have failed to internalize that women can not only stand alongside men but also above them.”

Women claiming their Space

A scene featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) in the documentary showcases how women have to strive to claim the space they are provided. Taking a leaf from the scene, Ms. Bhattarai mentioned, “As a woman, I will take up any space that is given, if not then I will create those spaces not just for me but for others too”. She firmly believes that a concerted effort is necessary for women’s agenda to be pushed as an issue of concern in the patriarchal society.

Ms. Bhattarai stressed that as a woman, it takes a lot of strength, time and energy to establish oneself in the periphery of the political space in Nepal. She also accented how society takes every opportunity to minimise the presence of women but despite it, women must continue to fight against the system relentlessly. Both speakers agreed that with the change in conventional leadership qualities our society requires more men who can support women and accept that they can be as good leaders as men or even better.

Closing Remarks by Sagoon Bhetwal

The program ended with closing remarks from Ms Sagoon Bhetwal, she premised her closing remarks on three sections. Firstly, there is a legacy issue in Nepal of women being neglected in various historical and political documents. Hence, there is a lack of knowledge of women’s participation in politics. She mentioned how Kamala Kunwar fought against the British in the Battle of Nalapani with a child on her back, however, her stories are cast away by mainstream history. The patriarchal history has always highlighted the success and glory of men while women’s stories have always been concealed.

Secondly, Ms. Bhetwal stressed how the conventional idea of a leader is very masculine. She emphasised a quote by Jacinda Adern, PM of New Zealand - that a leader can both be compassionate and strong. She says, “Women are in the forefront of various leadership roles thus, the idea that leadership is exclusively masculine must change”.

Lastly, She stressed that it is generally believed that women do not actively participate in politics but it is seldom understood that there are no specific policies to advance women’s equality among party officials or candidates. There is not enough space for women to enter politics. She concluded her remarks with ‘food for thought’ to the audience, “What can we do as a society and as an individual to make it easy for women to enter politics?”

The event summary was prepared by Yukta Poudel, research intern, IIDS

Watch the Q&A session here