Thursday, April 10, 2014

Women [& Men] have to Speak Out

When it comes to Violence against Women (VAW), many of us think that it is exclusively a matter left to the women's domain. Women should speak out against it, of course. But it is time that both men and women should fight against VAW together. Pragya Lamsal spoke to Professor Jenik Radon, an outspoken crusader in the global movement towards gender equality.  Here’s what she discovered. 

It was a fine morning. I was ready to join a conversation with a renowned professor. I was totally prepared, I had Googled and found some fascinating body of work by him. The appointment was fixed by my husband after I showed an interest in taking a conversation forth with the Professor.

Image Source: Pragya Lamsal

After around 20-minutes of riding through the dusty roads in Kathmandu, we finally reached Hotel Shankar. We asked the front desk officer to call Professor Radon, and in a few minutes, a jovial person walked out with a cup of tea in his hand. Here he was, Professor Jenik Radon, the founder and director of the Eesti and Eurasian Public Service Fellowship.

Oh very good to see you, he laughs as he settles down. We start our conversation in the corner of a pub (we took advantage of the morning as the pub was empty!). Currently a Professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Prof. Radon has also served as a lecturer at Stanford University, where he taught human rights along with other discipline.

As an enthusiast in human rights and gender issues, I start my conversation from the same standpoint. “Women’s rights and gender rights are very important issues, but women have been unfortunately neglected,” he tells me at the beginning of the conversation. Marissa Polnerow, the Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Kathmandu, arrives during the interview.

It’s not about Quota, It’s Right

Though good representation in South Asia, the quantity of female lawmakers in the second constituent assembly (CA) held in 2013 Nepal has fallen to 30 percent, from the earlier 33 percent representation in the 2008 CA. Professor Radon, who has involved in the constitutional peace process in Nepal and served as a drafter of the interim peace constitution, objects to the misinterpretation of the constitutional provision of 33 percent women participation in the elected body.

“Your CA is less than 33 percent women. When the law says there should be 33 percent, there should be 33 percent! If this is not followed, it means something is wrong,” he opines.

Now, to some, he possibly sounds feminist. In his opinion, though, some men should technically resign so that CA gets 33 percent. The net result has to be 33 percent. I second his idea.
In my own opinion, political leaders should not escape saying that they had provided tickets to 33 percent women candidates. The result has to be 33 percent - not the number of candidates.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Professor Radon suggests that women need to make their presence feel everywhere. Women should be visible because if people notice women everywhere, society starts accepting their presence.

If they (women) are out of sight, they are out of mind”, he shares a saying. Here, according to him, the term “out of sight” means women that are not in a day-to-day professional setting. Referring to a recently held Nepal Economic Summit 2014, where he was a panellist, Professor Radon expresses his dissatisfaction over the extremely low representation of women. “If you looked at the conference, the Nepal Economic Summit, you will have found very few women participating,” he says.

“I found the role of women being limited to tasks that were subordinating. Women who participated in the summit were not in the lead. So Women do not seem to be represented in professions or in business,” he opines.

His observation includes the trend of Nepali society. In fact, meaningful recognition is what women have been fighting for long. “For whatever reason whether it is historic, cultural or their own approach, women are not as assertive as man and this trend has to be changed,” he opines.

Peace Comes with Representation

Professor Radon believes that if we have more women being represented, we may have a more peaceful society. “Women are generally more family oriented, and are more responsible. The more women we have represented the better we are. I adore women and I am all for having more women in all professional spheres.”

Speak First: ‘Jokes’ or Reality?

There is a joke about men, not necessarily for Nepal, he pauses. “Men speak first and think second whereas women think first and speak second.” Women are more hesitant to make their voices heard because want to be sure of what they say, and that it is hundred percent correct, he links the saying with practice. “Nobody is a hundred percent correct. So there is an issue that all people whether man or woman should speak out,” he suggests. “It was really pragmatic suggestion because when we speak out than only we will be able to identify our weaknesses and improve them. I think that the man act in a historical fashion. So, I think there has to be a cultural change,” Professor Radon makes a strong point.

Socialization or Is It?

If we go by the trend prevailing in South Asia, women do not speak out because they are told not to. In most of the cases, it is not because of lack of ability but due to their upbringing. We can say due to ‘socialization’.

Professor Radon seconds my idea. “Yes, I agree with your word that socialization. Times have changed and the perception should also be changed.” He floats a simple equation: “You can think, if you can think, you should be speaking out because that means you have something to contribute. And all people think so all should have equal chance to express. Women are more than half of the population, if they do not speak out you are losing half of all potential ideas, he claims. Women have to speak out whether or not men hear. It’s a challenge but possible. You have to speak out you cannot remain silent.

Yes, women should speak out. They should end the culture of maintaining silence even in adverse situation. There are so many issues women should speak out against: emotional abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, trafficking, sexual harassment at work, and murder.  And it is not only women; men should also speak out against all forms of gender biases. Together we can challenge all form of discrimination.”

Pragya can be contacted at or
Find her on Twitter: @pragyalamsal