© Helvetas

From Maoist rebel to elected municipal deputy chairperson: Manasobha Budha

by Nikki Sapkota
© Helvetas

Growing up, Manasobha Budha noticed many instances of gender inequality within family relationships, institutions, and broader Nepali society. She often felt angry, sad and helpless. She was born in early 1985 in the small village of Kumalgaon, in the district of Kalikot - the third girl in a family of five girls and one boy. Neither of her parents had had the opportunity of schooling, nor did her elder sisters. Manasobha was keen to study, and fortunate that her elder brother advocated for her education. A primary school up to 8th grade lay close to the family home and she, her brother and younger sister studied there. At that time, Manasobha’s ambition was to become a teacher; she notes that this was as high as a girl could possibly dream.

«When I was a little girl, I noticed that my mother and elder sisters would go missing from our home for 5 days every month. As I started to process this, I realized that they were living in this small, cave-like hut a little while from our house. If I close my eyes, I can still see the dark room, smell it even. I realized that I must go through the same ritual month after month when I came of age, and it saddened my little heart. I did not want to live like that. A change was needed, and I was willing»

Manasobha Budha, Kumalgaon, Kalikot, Nepal

Manasobha’s life took a different turn when she was fifteen. At the time, the armed conflict in Nepal was growing, and she was persuaded by the talk of her neighbors to join the Maoist movement. She believed that in so doing, she could promote the rights of women and fight against gender and caste-based inequalities. Going underground, she spread the Maoist message of “equal rights for all” across a wide geographical area – travelling by night, keeping a low profile by day.

When the armed conflict ended with the peace accord in 2006, Manasobha became a member of the central Maoist party and started political campaigning in the open. Manasobha stood for, and was elected, Deputy Chair of Naraharinath rural municipality in the 2017 elections - the first local level elections held in Nepal in more than 20 years. As a Deputy Chair of the municipality, Manasobha is a busy woman with important functions. These include heading the judicial committee, coordinating the activities of local organizations/NGOs, monitoring and supervising municipality plans and programs, and overseeing local taxation, and the municipal budget. More importantly for her, Manasobha sees her current role as one in which she can continue to fight for the rights of women – equal with men under Nepal’s constitution, but often unequal in daily life.

The 2017 elections in Nepal ensured a visible and tangible presence of women in politics, reaching the constitutional mandate of ensuring at least 33% in federal and provincial assemblies and at least 40% at the local levels. Despite the unprecedented presence of women in all levels of government, elected women face many barriers in their day to day functions. Women’s long underrepresentation in politics is both the cause and consequence of the challenges that elected women representatives face in the execution of their functions. Hence, Helvetas places strong emphasis on supporting elected representatives such as Manasobha through mentoring and trainings, so that they understand and undertake their responsibilities effectively.  Their successful tenure can have transformative effect; creating more spaces and acceptance for women in politics.

«The trainings given by Helvetas on good governance, Right to Information, Women’s Rights in which I participated have built up my confidence to speak on these issues. I was quite aware of what I had to do, but it was after these trainings that I became more confident on how to do things»

Manasobha Budha

Manasobha was selected to travel to Geneva last week for a program organized by Helvetas. Visiting various parts of Switzerland, she had the opportunity to learn about the Swiss government structure, meet politicians and see various rural enterprises. And what are the things that she learned from Switzerland that she will seek to put into practice back in Naraharinath? She highlights the most important three:

  • Involve as many people as possible in municipal decision-making, rather than simply sitting with the other executive members and deciding
  • Organize an awareness campaign on waste management and climate change, and follow up with specific actions
  • Stand firm as an elected representative, believing that as a woman, one can be elected even without the quota system if one performs well.

The exposure has clearly strengthened her political resolve; Manasobha has plans to compete for the position of Chairperson in the next election.