A Maoist Feminist in Nepal

04-02-15_UCPN-M Ghorahi_0026-WS

Poonam Shirpali smiles like a woman but shakes hands like a man. For her, no greeting by modest folding of her hands.
She was born 36 years ago in the Punjab, India, where her father, a modest government clerk, was killed during the Sikh uprising in 1984. Her mother became active in the maoist movement and her two daughters followed suit. Poonam’s elder sister joined the Nepali maoists in 1997 when they still seemed a marginal force, one year after the start of their rebellion. In 2005, at the beginning of the peace process, Poonam also came to Nepal. She soon climbed the ranks, became co-secretary of the UCPN-Maoist party in Dang district.

For her, there can be no social revolution without an overhaul of the gender relations in Nepal. Poonam was founding member of the Interparty Women’s Network which she now chairs, and she is also chairwoman of the women’s wing of her UCPN-Maoist party in Dang district. As such, she focuses on a wide range of women’s topics, from a fair share of women in the elections to domestic violence.

Nepal has some very progressive social legislature. It was the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage. Poonam: “The majority of Nepalis is politically left-leaning, but at the same time, the country sets a bad example of violence against women.” She is very critical of her own party’s cadres, many of whom she accuses of being involved in the oppression of women. “You cannot transform society unless you also change its cultural and religious aspects. There should also be equality in homes and temples, and to accomplish that will take a long struggle.”

Poonam is married and has a son (15) and a daughter (6). Her husband was the constituency’s (losing) candidate for Nepal’s Constitutional Assembly in 2013.