we can do it


For the last column in April celebrating diversity I would like to introduce you to Jaya Luintel who has spent half her life helping the women of Nepal achieve equality.  What follows is a conversation with Jaya:

A Conversation with Nepali Journalist, Women’s Rights Advocate Jaya Luintel
March 5, 2014
Asia Foundation 60th anniversary seriesAsia Foundation Development Fellow Jaya LuintelAhead of International Women’s Day on March 8, In Asia editor Alma Freeman interviewed Nepali radio journalist and women’s rights advocate, Jaya Luintel, on women’s changing role in politics and society in Nepal, the country’s wide gender gap, and hopes of democratic momentum. Luintel, who was recently selected as one of 10 inaugural 2014 Asia Foundation Development Fellows, is the founder of the organization, The Story Kitchen, and last month organized the first ever national-level conference of women radio producers and broadcasters in Nepal, as part of World Radio Day.
Your career as a journalist began with Radio Sagarmatha in 1999, when you started the radio’s first show on gender equality and women’s rights. What motivated you to start this show?
One morning in early 2002, during our editorial meeting, the station manager came to the newsroom and told us that Oxfam in Nepal was interested in supporting Radio Sagarmatha to produce a radio show on gender issues. He asked if anyone was interested in leading the production team, and I was the only one to raise my hand. I knew very little about gender issues or Oxfam’s work, but spent a great deal of time researching gender issues, and was heavily influence by the book “Half the World Half a Chance,” by Julia C. Moose. Together with Oxfam, we came up with the name for the program “Saha-Astittwa,” which means “co-existence.”
Our first broadcast was on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2002, when we launched our hour-long weekly program. At that time there were very few radio programs focused on women’s rights. Most “women’s programs” focused on making pickles at home, cooking, knitting, and so on. Saha-Astittwa introduced the issues of gender equality, women’s rights, and co-existence, with a focus on social justice, women’s identity, and treatment of women in public.
This exposed me to hundreds of women’s stories. Every time I talked to women and girls, I asked them what their dream was. I later realized that we Nepali women were never taught to dream for our own future. As a daughter we followed our father’s dream, as a wife we fulfill our husband’s dream, and when we get old, we have to live up to our son’s dream. For me, having my own dream to help other women dream for their own future through radio programming was very challenging yet very exciting.
As a women’s rights advocate in Nepal, what are some of the biggest changes that you’ve noticed in the areas of gender equality and women’s participation in society?
The three biggest changes I’ve noticed in Nepali society for women over the last 20 years are: women are now capable of raising their voice, more girls are attending school, and women are becoming more independent economically.
According to the 2011 national census, the literacy rate for women is 57.4 percent, up from 42.8 percent in 2001. Similarly, the percentage of women’s ownership of fixed property (land and homes) has increased from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 19.7 percent in 2011. According to the World Bank, the maternal mortality ratio in last five years (per 100,000 live births) has reduced to 170 from 250. Though statistics show that more girls and women are becoming literate, there is still a high school drop-out rate for girls, and the quality of education they get compared to boys and men – even from the same family – is not equal. Deeply rooted patriarchal norms, beliefs, and values also create barriers for women to exercise their freedoms and rights in reality.
In the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, Nepal ranks very low – 121st out of 136 countries in terms of gender gap overall. What are the major factors contributing to such a wide gender gap?
In 1956, the first formal development plan and policy was introduced in Nepal. In 1980, 10 years before the restoration of democracy, the sixth “Five-Year Plan” included women in the development efforts for the first time. After this move, development plans and policies in Nepal were increasingly geared toward addressing the issue of gender disparity. Later, the ninth and tenth plans were quite vocal to end gender disparity. A separate ministry for women in Nepal was established in 1995 right after Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing.
There have been other positive changes both in laws and policies. Despite these changes at the legal and policy level, there are many obstacles in turning gender equality into a reality as gender biases have been firmly rooted in the legal, economic, cultural, and social framework of Nepali society. For example, the percentage of girls attending school is increasing, both at the primary and secondary level, but when it comes to tertiary (university or college) level, the number of female students is less than half that of men. In many cases, women are forced to leave school because daughters are seen as a burden for the family and they want to shift this burden to another family by marrying her off. Nepal has some of the highest child marriage rates in the world.
Meanwhile, Nepal has the highest women representation in parliament (33 percent) in South Asia.
It’s true that the representation of women in Nepal’s parliament is the highest in South Asia. But while the female-to-male ratio of women’s representation in parliament is 0.50, the female-to-male ratio in ministerial positions is 0.08. This shows that women are still not chosen for key leadership positions.
I just re-listened to an interview that I did back in 2006 with then Maoist leader Ms. Onsari Gharti who was recently elected as a vice-chair of the Constituent Assembly. That was her first radio interview after Nepal’s government and the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord, and the Maoists began to come out from underground life. She was also one of the female Maoist combatants. I bring her up as an example of how women’s representation in parliament also represents women of diverse communities, political background, education, social status, caste, and ethnic groups.
Unfortunately, while the number of women in parliament has increased, they are still lacking in meaningful participation. The interim constitution of Nepal explicitly says that in every state body, women’s participation should be at least 33 percent. This was the case in the previous Constituent Assembly, but we don’t yet know the final percentage of women who will be in the newly elected CA.
For some, Nepal’s new prime minister raises hopes of democratic momentum for the country, long stalemated by political conflict. What do you see as the biggest priorities in terms of securing women’s rights in the coming decade?
Education, access to economic resources, and health are definitely major issues for women. In my opinion, by improving these areas, women’s lives will be enhanced but won’t be transformed. If the government is really willing to transform the lives of Nepali women, efforts to change our current social and political structure – which is patriarchal – is essential. While laws, policies, and programs that include women’s rights and equality are important, we also need more effective implementation and monitoring of these laws.
Nepal’s issue of citizenship carries a legacy of discrimination and marginalization of women. Nepal’s citizenship law does not recognize women as independent individuals. For example, a Nepali woman after reaching the age of 18 can get a citizenship certificate only if she gets recommended by her father (if not married) or by her husband (if married). The interim constitution of Nepal says that the recommendation of her mother is also valid, but this is not being implemented effectively. In many cases officials don’t take the document forward from a woman unless it was submitted by her father or her husband’s copy of citizenship certificate. So, if a father or husband is unhappy with his daughter or wife, he can simply deny his recommendation for citizenship. During one of the interviews that I conducted for The Story Kitchen, sociologist Dr. Meena Poudel said: “The new legal provision in the new constitution should allow the state, not a father, husband, or any other individual to recommend citizenship for both men and women in Nepal.” If this kind of legal provision could be formulated and implemented it would help women to establish their own autonomy, and increase their ability to participate more fully in society.






we can do it


April is Celebrate Diversity Month and I would like to kick of the month with celebrating the life of Patsy Mink who was the first non European woman elected to Congress.


What follows is her biography from Wikipedia.

Mink was born in Paia on the island of Maui. She was raised by her parents on Maui.

She attended Maui High School and in her Junior year, Mink won her first election to become student body president. Her election to the position came with great challenges. She developed approaches to confront these challenges, and she drew on these experiences when later serving in the territorial legislature and in Congress. For example, the month before the election, Honolulu was attacked by Japan. As a consequence, most of the student body was uncomfortable with anything that was Japanese-oriented. Therefore, in order to get elected, Mink had to overcome these hard feelings. Mink also had to cope with being the only female who had ever showed ambition for student office in the school’s history, something that was unheard of at the time. Mink orchestrated a strategy of impressing the various cliques on campus, including the popular football team. Her coalition-building strategy worked and she won a close election. In 1944, Mink graduated from high school as class valedictorian.

Mink moved to Honolulu where she attended the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. She spent one semester (Sept. 1946-Jan. 1947) enrolled at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. She then transferred to the University of Nebraska where she once again faced discrimination. The university had a long-standing racial segregation policy whereby coloured students lived in different dormitories from the white students. This annoyed Mink, and she organized and created a coalition of students, parents, administrators, employees, alumni, sponsoring businesses and corporations. Mink and her coalition successfully lobbied to end the university’s segregation policies.

After her successful war against segregation at the University of Nebraska, Mink moved back to Honolulu to prepare for medical school. She received bachelor’s degrees in zoology and chemistry from the University of Hawaii. However, in 1948, none of the twenty medical schools to which she applied would accept women. A disappointed Mink decided the best way to force medical schools to accept women would be through the judicial process. Mink decided to go to law school.

Mink applied to the University of Chicago Law School. Unusually, the school had admitted women from its inception in 1902, and Mink attended law school with several other women. Mink obtained her Juris Doctor degree in 1951.
While at law school, Mink met hydrologist John Mink (1924–2005), who was to become her husband and lifelong partner.

Newly married, Mink settled in Honolulu soon after, where she began practicing law. In 1952, Patsy gave birth to her daughter Gwendolyn, who later became a prominent author and educator on labor and women’s issues.

As the Territory of Hawaii debated statehood in 1956, Mink was elected to the Hawaii Territorial Legislature representing her district in the territorial House of Representatives. She then served in the territorial Senate. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of the Union. From 1962-1964, Mink served in the Hawaii State Senate.

At the 1960 Democratic National Convention, a speech by Hawaii delegate Mink persuaded two-thirds of the party to keep their progressive stance on the civil rights issue.

U.S. Representative

Patsy Mink during her first career in Congress

Mink with Lyndon Johnson after his trip to Hawaii for a conference on the Vietnam War, February 1966.
In 1965, Mink became the first female of an ethnic minority to join the ranks of Congress. She served six consecutive terms. During the 1972 Presidential race, Mink ran in the Oregon primary as an anti-Vietnam War candidate.

Mink took what she learned in high school and built some of the most influential coalitions in Congress. Her most important coalition was one to support the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, of which she was one of the principal authors and sponsors, prohibiting gender discrimination by federally funded institutions, an outgrowth of the adversities Mink faced through college.

In 1970, Mink became the first Democratic woman to deliver a State of the Union response.[8]

Mink also introduced the first comprehensive Early Childhood Education Act and authored the Women’s Educational Equity Act. All of these laws written by Mink were declared landmark laws by Congress as they advanced equal rights in America beyond what could be imagined during the time. Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act was renamed by President George W. Bush on 29 October 2002 to become the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act; she co-authored and sponsored the Act while in the House. In 1975 she was the chief sponsor of HR 9924, granting $5 million in total tax-payer contributions ($22 million in 2016 dollars) for both the state and National Women’s Conference[9] which President Gerald Ford signed into law.

From 1975 to 1977, during the 94th Congress, Mink was elected to a position in the House Democratic leadership, as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
In 1976, Mink gave up her seat in Congress to run for a vacancy in the United States Senate. After she lost the primary election for the Senate seat to Spark Matsunaga, President Jimmy Carter appointed Mink as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She served under Cyrus Vance and Edmund Muskie.

Return to U.S. Representative
After her service in the Carter Administration, Mink settled in Honolulu, where she was elected to the Honolulu City Council. Her peers on the council eventually elected her Chairwoman, and she often butted heads with the controversial Mayor of Honolulu Frank Fasi.

In 1990, Mink won back a seat in Congress, serving alongside Neil Abercrombie who represented the First Congressional District of Hawaii.

On August 30, 2002, Mink was hospitalized in Honolulu’s Straub Clinic and Hospital with complications from chickenpox. Her condition steadily worsened, and on September 28, 2002, Mink died in Honolulu of viral pneumonia, at age 74.

Hawaii and the nation mourned; President George W. Bush ordered all flags lowered to half staff in honor of her contributions toward the equal rights of Americans. Mink received a national memorial and was honored with a state funeral in the Hawaii State Capitol Rotunda attended by leaders and members of Congress. She is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. In 2007, Central Oahu Regional Park on Oahu was renamed “Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park” in her honor.

Mink’s death occurred one week after the 2002 primary election, too late for her name to be removed from the general election ballot. On November 5, 2002, Mink was posthumously re-elected to Congress. Her vacant seat was filled by Ed Case after a special election on January 4, 2003.

In 2002 Congress renamed the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act (which Mink coauthored) to the “Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.”

Documentary films about Mink’s life and role in Title IX include: Rise of the Wahine, directed by Dean Kaneshiro and Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority (2008), directed by Kimberlee Bassford.

She received a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on November 24, 2014.