Promoting Evidence to Guide Local Government Policies and Programmes in Karnali

March 19, 2024

Since Gorikala Budha assumed the role of Vice Chairperson of Tila Rural Municipality in Jumla last May, she extended her mission beyond day-to-day administrative duties. She is committed to redefining the narratives surrounding women and marginalized communities, aiming to establish them as influential change agents.

In her role, Budha has observed the tendency to assign secondary roles to women and witnessed their voices being marginalized. “Despite the formal presence of women in community user committees, their participation is often tokenistic, and they rarely get the opportunity to be at the decision-making level,” she says.

Mana Badi, an activist from the marginalized Badi community in Dullu Municipality, Dailekh, shares a similar view. Despite her dedicated efforts, Badi hasn't seen any progress in her attempt to have either herself or another member of her community included in a committee working with the Ward office in Patangini to develop the locality. "While members from other communities are part of the committee, there is no representation from our marginalized community. We are uncertain about when we might see one of us included in the committee," says Badi.

Potrait photo of lady

Mana Badi

“When all voices are represented in such communities, the services provided by the Ward office become more reflective of the diverse needs and realities of the communities in Patangini, including ours.”

These voices from Karnali Province highlight a broader challenge in ensuring meaningful involvement and leadership roles for women and marginalized communities in local decision-making. There are ongoing efforts to address this concern, with elected women representatives actively involved. Budha, for instance, has been championing greater representation and engagement of women in decision-making, a crucial step towards evidence-based policy advocacy, planning and budgeting. Badi has been advocating for a stronger voice and participation of marginalized communities to enrich decision-making with their experiences and perspectives.

While Nepal's constitution, which marks a historic transition from a unitary form of government to federalism, aims for inclusivity and participation in creating an equitable society, the reality at the local level indicates that the contributions of women and marginalized groups in the development process are not fully recognized. Existing traditional norms often push these groups into secondary roles, restricting their influence, even when they hold formal positions in local governments.

Recognizing this, the European Union Support to Federalism (EUSIF), a project implemented by UNDP in Karnali with support from European Union in Nepal, introduced an initiative that focuses on empowering the voices of people, particularly women and marginalized groups, with the goal of making local government processes like planning, budgeting and budget execution more participatory and inclusive. This effort is a significant aspect of the Basic Service Delivery (BSD), a key responsibility of local governments to ensure equitable development based on local conditions.

The BSD system at the local government level encompasses legal frameworks, institutional mechanisms and procedures that enable the provision of essential services such as health, education and agriculture. By amplifying the voices of women and marginalized groups, the EUSIF initiative working alongside the Provincial and Local Government Support Project (PLGSP), the Government of Nepal’s flagship programme, aims to strengthen the BSD system in Karnali. This, in turn, is expected to contribute to enhancing the capacity of local governments in terms of inclusiveness, accountability and sustainable service delivery.

Stark gaps in BSD

A comprehensive BSD mapping exercise, supported by the project, was carried out across 21 of the 79 local governments in Karnali. This exercise aimed to identify gaps, best practices and effective interventions that could strengthen the BSD system and processes. The scope of this initiative was extensive, with in-depth studies conducted in five local governments (Soru, Tila, Dullu, Chaurjahari, and Panchapuri) that EUSIF is closely with with.

Prior to initiating the exercise, extensive consultations were organized involving representatives from provincial and local governments. The study examined diverse elements of local government service delivery, ranging from the existence and application of legal frameworks to organizational structures, infrastructure, human resource management, skill development, knowledge, data, and financial resources. Additionally, the study scrutinized these factors through the lens of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI).

The findings underscored significant gaps and challenges in planning and budgeting processes, as well as inter-governmental coordination. Capacity constraints, competing priorities and the absence of practical tools for effective budget execution, monitoring and record-keeping were highlighted. Most surveyed local governments lacked a strategic vision for driving inclusive and sustainable development and essential frameworks such as local government profiles, periodic plans and GESI strategies. Shortcomings were found in key sectors like education and health, indicating a need for sustained intervention, especially for the underserved vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Interaction with local people in Soru Rural Municipality, Mugu, as part of Inclusive Basic Service Delivery mapping exercise in 2023.

EUSIF is actively collaborating with the provincial government, local governments and other stakeholders to develop indicators and strategies based on the BSD mapping results. The provincial government has identified 10 local governments as 'model palikas', with initial support from the project in five of them. The project is planning to support the five palikas (abovementioned) to establish and operationalize one-stop-service centre to provide quick, effective and integrated services to the people.

The insights gained from the best practices and lessons of the study will also shape capacity-building programmes facilitated by the Karnali Provincial Training Academy (KPTA). As a key institution for building capacity of elected representatives and civil servants in Karnali, KPTA will use these findings to enhance its capacity development. The aim is to foster a more inclusive, efficient and transparent BSD system to contribute to evidence-based policy advocacy, planning and budgeting. 

A spotlight on evidence for Badis

In a concerted effort to guide informed decision-making and focus on the most marginalized communities in the province, the project played vital role in supporting a study on the Badi community commissioned by the provincial government. This comprehensive study, initiated as part of a March 2021 agreement between the provincial government and the Badi Struggle Committee, was born out of a series of demands related to political rights and livelihood from the agitating committee.

The study involved extensive consultations with stakeholders, employing various methodologies such as focus group discussions and key informant interviews. A total of 211 Badi individuals, including 140 women, hailing from seven settlements spanning six districts across Karnali, actively participated in this initiative. The study's inclusive approach also extended to Badi communities in neighboring provinces —Lumbini and Sudurpaschim—where the effectiveness of policies and programmes targeted at the Badi communities there was explored. A validation workshop on the draft report garnered insights from over 40 Badi individuals, including 21 women.

The report, a culmination of a thorough study, provides crucial recommendations for action. One key suggestion is to review and revise the policy of the National Land Commission concerning the distribution of land, specifically addressing the needs of landless Badi individuals. In Tallo Dungeshwor of Dullu Municipality, all 33 Badi settlements are without land and housing. These families currently reside in makeshift houses on land owned by a more affluent Badi family. Devi Sara Badi, representing one of these 33 families, expresses the collective hope, saying, "We hope for a future where each one of us can have our own land and a house to live in."

Another crucial recommendation is the establishment of a high-level provincial government body to address the most pressing needs and priorities for the Badi community across Karnali Province. The report emphasizes the proper implementation of the five-point agreement signed between the provincial government and the Badi community in Karnali in 2021. Additionally, the report calls for scholarship schemes for Badi children and proposes other noteworthy measures.

Moving ahead, the project plans to collaborate with the Badi community and local governments, fostering an environment that encourages meaningful participation. The goal is to ensure that the needs of the Badi community are duly recognized and prioritized in the planning process.