Women Fighting for a New Nepal

Revolution #011, August 14, 2005, posted at revcom.us

Revolution received the following article from Dipak Sapkota, a correspondent for Janadesh Weekly, a pro-Maoist weekly newspaper in Nepal.

In a feudal society like Nepal, it is a great challenge for women to cross the boundaries placed on them by society. For example, according to tradition, women cannot go outside their village without their husbands or a male guardian. In some areas, especially in the Terai regions, women are not allowed to take jobs. And most women are strictly engaged in household tasks within their house and village.

But today, in almost the same ratio as men, women are participating in the People’s War, including as members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Before the armed struggle started in 1996, almost all women in the countryside were working in the kitchen and the house. Now they have not just come out from under the feudal boundaries placed on them, but they are freedom fighters and commanders of hundreds of fighting forces.

We interviewed Comrade Rekha, the Battalion Commissar of the 1st brigade. She is one of the highest ranking leaders in the PLA.

Q: The feudalists and reactionaries say women are weak, that they cannot fight. Is this true?

Comrade Rekha: These kind of insulting claims have been refuted by the huge participation of woman in the People’s War. Hundreds of women have sacrificed their lives. Thousands are fighting with rifles on their shoulders. Dozens of woman commanders are leading hundreds of PLA forces. Women fighters have played a crucial role in wining a lot of battles. Thousands are also doing party work as well as work in the new revolutionary government.

Q: How is the participation of women in People’s Liberation Army?

CR: It is surprising and electrifying. Most of the young women prefer joining the PLA rather than joining a mass organization or doing government work. Many women fighters believe the real way to resist oppression is by defeating the enemy in battle. One-third of the PLA forces are women. I think this figure answers your question.

Q: Are there any problems with the continuity of women’s participation in military work?

CR: There are some. The main problem is the effect of pregnancies. There is at least a two to three year gap (leave) when a woman has a baby. And when the women come back many of them prefer to switch to organizational or state work. There is organizational work in the PLA and all party members are fighters and have to keep themselves fit. But here what I mean by organizational work is work in the party structures (aside from the PLA) such as the district committees, the area committees or cell committees of the Party. There is also organizational work in the women’s organizations, farmers’ organizations, etc. So instead of having regular military training and going to the frontlines of the battlefields these women organize meetings, do cultural programs, etc. As you know, most of the autonomous regions, districts, and villages have people’s governments. So there is state work like tax collection, organizing meetings, management work, judiciary work, etc. PLA members may have to work in any part of the country and have to be highly mobile to be able to participate in centralized and decentralized actions. But leaders and cadres doing organization and state work are often able to work in areas near their native village or district, and so women who are doing this kind of work can go to their home and see their children from time to time.

We are seriously discussing this problem. But the huge and electrifying participation of new women recruits has filled this gap. And there is an exciting development of groups of women commanders and political commissars.

Q: How long have you been a battalion commissar? What is this experience like?

CR: It has been about a year. I was a company commissar before this. Opportunity itself is a challenge. So I am trying my best to perform my role with pride and to meet the challenge. I have learned that the most important thing is ideology and then there is one’s determination. I have experienced that everything is possible if we have a correct ideology and if it is implemented with courage. I never feel that I am weaker than the men in any battles. But there are various kinds of feudal remnants of a male-dominated society. I believe they will be done away with in the course of the revolution.


It seems that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and its leadership have grasped the essence of the great saying by Comrade Lenin that the participation of women is decisive in the success of the revolution. The CPN (Maoist) have tried a lot to develop women’s leadership in the PLA and in the new revolutionary governments. The fact that almost one-fourth of the central leaders are women shows this. There are lots of women commanders and commissars in PLA. And there are also a significant number of women medical activists within the PLA and in all levels and spheres of the party organization and the people’s governments.

After the completion of nine turbulent years of People’s War, what has changed? The first thing on this list is the participation of women in the revolution. This is a significant change. The women have broken their chains of suppression and discrimination. Women have proven that they will not just keep tolerating discrimination and repression and that they can resist and fight for equality and their rights.

So what kind of changes has the revolution brought to the masses of women? In the base areas and the Maoist-influenced areas, there is now much less discrimination of woman. And these changes are spreading towards the urban areas.

The characteristic of traditional distribution of work is also changing. In the base areas we can find men doing household tasks and women are doing work which in the past were said to be jobs only for men. In the PLA and the party, responsibilities are handled with equal participation, whether it is in the kitchen or fighting. This is now spreading to all the masses. In the base areas, the discrimination in salary and wages between men and women has been eliminated. Nepal is infamous for women trafficking—young girls sold in Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta, as well as in Arab countries. Now the trafficking of women has been reduced. In the base areas, the bias against girls in education is being eliminated and parents are encouraged to send their daughters to school along with their sons. The compulsory primary education for children is being implemented in the base areas. People’s governments prohibit adolescent marriages and parents cannot force their children to marry. The minimum age for marriage for women is 20 years old and for men it is 22 years old. Women are given the right of family planning and the right to choose an appropriate contraceptive. Love marriages (not arranged marriages) are encouraged and a priority is given to girls to choose their husband. Polygamy is banned and the remarriage of widows is encouraged. The dowry tradition is prohibited. The sale of alcohol (which led to many women being beaten by their husbands) is banned.

A most significant development in the course of the revolution is the right of women to own property. Under Nepalese law, women do not really have the right to inherit property—they must stay unmarried until they are 35 years old to inherit property. On March 8, International Women’s Day, the women’s organization of the CPN (Maoist)—the All Nepal Women’s Organization (Revolutionary) [ANWO(R)]—called for women to be given equal right to their parents’ property. A significant number of families have implemented this. It has not become law in the people’s government yet but one of the party’s demands is that women be given the right to own and inherit land.

Comrade Jayapuri Gharti, the president of the ANWO(R) says, “In our central committee meeting we decided to call on the masses to give the right to own property to their daughters too. We believe unless women have the right to property, they will never feel equal to men. Equality should start from birth, with the right to property.”

We asked Comrade Gharti what kinds of programs there are for women. She said, “We are proceeding with resistance programs against all the awful rituals that make woman second-class citizens. Against woman trafficking, dowry traditions, so-called beauty pageants, vulgar Indian films and papers, alcohol and other things like this. We have started implementing all this.”

While the revolution has brought significant changes to the lives of women, there are also some problems. There are problems in qualitatively developing the leadership of women. This is especially the case in the PLA. Most of the women PLA fighters are between the ages of 18 and 25 and when they marry and have a baby many shift to organization and government work. The responsibility of children and female diseases are also problems that make it hard for women to participate consistently. Less nutritious food, inadequate sanitation and medical treatment are other health problems women face, and there are still remnants of feudal male-dominated society within the party and the base areas.

Nepalese women, with their courage, sacrifice, and resistance, are determined to achieve victory in the People’s War.