The Confederation of Nepalese Industries Women’s Leadership Forum organized the Women’s Leadership Summit ‘023 on 25th & 26th of March, 2023 in Kathmandu, Nepal. The summit aimed to address the core issues of women’s leadership in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Designed to educate, enable and empower women leaders for transformative impact, rather than seeking recognition for their potential, the Summit featured power-packed sessions, keynote addresses, and fireside dialogues with multi-generation experts who understand the transformative process. Gender equality champions and women leaders exchanged ideas, shared strategies, celebrated successes, and learned from each other in the two-day summit.
The Women’s Leadership Summit engaged in debates, discussions, and deliberations on three core themes: Women in Leadership, Women in Economics, and Women as Change Agents. Governance Lab Chairperson, Dr. Pukar Malla, was one of the speakers for the “Change Agents” panel at the Summit.
Q) What do you think made the Women’s Leadership Summit stand out from other similar events you’ve attended?
Dr. Malla: In my opinion, the discussions flowed smoothly and had depth in them, with each panel presenting clear key takeaways. The moderators did an excellent job overall, ensuring that the conversations stayed on topic without derailing. I believe that a Summit of this scale that underscores the need to include women in leadership roles across different fields hasn’t been done until now in Nepal, so kudos to the organizing team.
Q) As a participant and a panel speaker in the Women’s Leadership Summit, can you share your thoughts on the event? How was your experience attending the Women’s Leadership Summit ‘023 as a panel speaker and a participant?
Dr. Malla: I had the opportunity to attend a 2 day event where people from all spheres of life, including local communities, SAARC level and international participants, came together to discuss various relevant topics such as politics, business, IT, and climate change. I couldn’t help but notice the limited participation of men in positions of authority and without. The panel discussions were moderated effectively and the key takeaways were clearly highlighted without straying from the main topic. There was one panel that specifically focused on economic development in collaboration with FWEAN (Federation of Women Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal), which emphasized the importance of women in leadership positions. Overall, the event provided a platform for remarkable individuals who are making a positive impact in their communities to showcase their learning and perspectives.
Q) How has the discussions impacted your perspective on female leadership?
Dr. Malla: Oftentimes, the society as a whole focuses on ‘where women are’ and only then do we try to figure out what needs to be done in order to bring women to equal footing of leadership roles and authoritative positions. Less so often, do we think about ‘where women are not’ and build strategies and programs around it, when this process should’ve been a precedent in order. Today’s women are in this journey of enabling themselves to go from the status of unawareness to awareness and then to empowerment. However, these women aren’t in the journey of being in a position where they hold authority and exude leadership. Here, I am not only talking about women leading in social development sectors, it is imperative that women are provided with the opportunity to set their foot into leadership roles in economic as well as political development sectors. Generally, we see women leading in social development sectors, for instance, we find women advocating for issues like Gender Equality, however the opportunity of female leadership participation in the fields of infrastructure, investment, formulating of economic policies, are found to be minimal. Hence, what I felt that this Summit tried to highlight is that- ‘we need women in positions of leadership in places where women are not’, so in that sense I believe the Summit did justice.
Q) There is a greater lack of female leadership in the field of politics than any other field. Were there any discussions regarding solutions for this gap?
Dr. Malla: I recall there were many suggestions that had poured in with regards to these topics, but the one that stuck with me was that- perhaps, simply reserving 33% of seats for women in parliament is not enough. We should go further and ensure that 33% of the first past the post seats are allotted to women. This would mean that each political party would have to find and groom female candidates to compete in the first past the post system, and it would encourage them to do so by ensuring that a certain percentage of seats are reserved for women. It would also create a more robust system for women’s representation in parliament, as every party will know that they’ll have to include 1/3rd women, but in case they’re not available, they are required to find eligible candidates from the ground level and groom them.
Q) Do you think our country is making any progress towards enabling women to step into Leadership roles in all fields?
Dr. Malla: An article by the World Economic Forum stated that it is going to take about 100 years in this space for there to be gender parity. Think about it, 100 years is an extremely long time, that’s about 3 generations! As progressive of a country as Nepal is as a part of South Asia, with progressive policies that are set in stone, it should be noted that it is the implementation of the policies that are regressive and not robust. We should be thinking about an accelerated journey to gender parity in Nepal and cutting the 100 yrs into 20-30 years, whatever it may take. We need to think about accelerating the process of bringing women in leadership positions and we need to start off by continuing to enable more women to step into leadership positions at local level, because if such initiatives were being adequately implemented at the local level, we wouldn’t have been living today’s reality where only 1% of the ward chairperson’s are women. There are about 6743 wards all over Nepal among which a mere number of 50 female chairperson’s representation can be seen. We should be talking about equal chairs for both male and female counterparts of our nation. This happens only when the local level mind systems are not ready. To kickstart this procedure, we need to strategically plan the limited resources we need to start this initiative in all the remaining wards. Hence, the policies that are formulated need to mobilize the grassroots level and capacitate the mindsets that need to be groomed.
Q) You emphasized that we cannot have the luxury of waiting for 100 years to bring gender parity. Do you have any suggestions that could help accelerate this journey?
Dr. Malla: We could do a couple of things. First of all, we need to ponder upon how we have more of these conversations, and how we have more robust policies in place at the local level. Thinking deeply about women’s political and economic leadership is extremely important. Secondly, we can’t ignore the need for male allyship in this process. The truth is people with greater authority and power right now are men. As a society, we tend to focus on gender sensitivity at home and government levels, but it is equally important to institutionalize it in the workplaces as well. Hence, in order to make the decisions that are taken inside closed doors more- ‘gender sensitive’, female counterparts should be sent inside those rooms. However, until that happens, we need to look for measures to accelerate the process, and that could be done by having equal participation of men in such conventions and conversations surrounding these issues. Perhaps someday, this would enable us to talk about the health and social issues faced by men as well, but we don’t talk about it as much as we talk about the problems women deal with because it’s a lot more of an important conversation we need to have. Therefore in order to go in that direction, we need more male allyship, and I strongly believe it should start from home.
Q) Could you please elaborate more on your last statement?
Dr. Malla: Yes, surely. Male counterparts should be engaged more in the care responsibilities of households. Males role and participation in care responsibilities of households should be incentivized and glorified- The same way women’s role was glorified in the early days, where women were called “Grihamantri”. In the earlier days, women were put under the impression that they hold power just because they have access to all the keys in the household, and get to make a few minor decisions in the house because all the major decisions were probably made by the male figure of the household. While some women might’ve taken pride, and the others may have seeked comfort in this subtle conditioning of gender roles; the truth of it being a masked paradox that limited them to the four walls of their abode, persists. Hence, we need to think of ways we can glorify male roles in the care responsibilities in a similar manner. Maybe a man who cooks, does dishes and takes care of the babies could be labeled as- “the Renaissance Man” or “the Empathetic Man”, or there could even be an award! Whatever interventions it takes to glorify and increase the partake of men in care responsibilities. I’m not sure if I’m over- glorifying or over-compensating for the gaps, but the point I’m trying to make is that men should be encouraged.
Q) One of the objectives of the Summit states that it aims to bring to light and to address the post COVID-19 struggles of women in leadership. Were there any concerns brought forth on this front at the event?
Dr. Malla: Our government has come up with so many policies to empower women, but the lack of their effective implementation has become apparent. For instance, the Mahila Udyamsilta Bikash Karja (Women Entrepreneurship Development Fund) was introduced by the government as a policy that provides a loan up to 15 lakhs without any collateral to women entrepreneurs in the country in order to provide financial assistance and encouragement to women on their entrepreneurial journey. However, I have come to hear about many cases where women entrepreneurs were denied access to this provision because the financial institutions themselves do not have enough incentives to incentivize the entrepreneurs. Likewise, policies that allow access to property and finance to women need to be implemented full-fledged. In order for this to happen, maybe similar conversations can be encouraged and small programs could be organized.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, it has become more apparent that the dual burden was more of a back burner for women than men because women were proactively involved in care responsibilities in addition to their 9-5 commitments. Hence, it became clearer that something needs to be done around this area. Other than that, access to resources only becomes all the more important during times of uncertainties like that of the pandemic, because only if we have funds can we sustain ourselves and our business ventures. The incentives that were made unavailable when it came to making financial resources accessible to women only made it obvious that the world of economics wasn’t in favor of women. I think this has alerted us that if we are to think about going in the direction of gender parity, we need to create level playing fields for women to have access to different aspects.
Q) Any final takeaway?
Dr. Malla: We are in a state where we cannot just be talking about women’s empowerment, we need to work on women’s leadership, if we are to accelerate the journey towards gender equity. In that process, it’s important to think about women particularly in economic and political leadership at this point. After learning enough from the last decade of political developments in the country, the need to further strengthen the existing structures either by changing the structures or capacitating the structures has become evident. Finally, people in power need to step into the role of becoming ‘agents of change’ as well, and that’s where male allyship comes in, whether at home or in a professional setting. Educate, enable and empower women leaders for transformative impact, rather than seeking recognition for their potential, the Summit featured power-packed sessions, keynote addresses, and fireside dialogues.