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The Nepalese parliament has elected women’s rights crusader Bidhya Devi Bhandari as its first female president, an important symbolic move for a country beginning to shift away from a traditional male-dominated hierarchy in favour of greater gender equality.

Bhandari, who currently serves as the deputy leader of the ruling Unified Marxist-Leninist party, was handily elected by parliament to the position in October. The presidency in Nepal is widely viewed as a ceremonial post.

“My entire interest will be the betterment of the country,” she told onlookers after her election. “I will complete my responsibility towards the country and the people.”

She has been a prominent political figure and activist in Nepal for decades, perhaps best known for organizing and leading protests against the then-monarch King Gyanendra that ultimately led to the restoration of democracy over the past decade.

Bhandari has also made a name for herself by successfully campaigning for the addition of gender equality as a fundamental right into Nepal’s new constitution, a document approved in September after years of bitter political wrangling.

The new constitution also includes a requirement that one-third of the country’s legislators be women, that women be represented on all government committees and that either the president or vice-president be female.

Although Bhandari is widely respected as a moral authority throughout the country, there has been recent controversy over her support for a provision in the new constitution that prohibits single mothers and women with foreign-born spouses from passing on Nepali citizenship to their children.

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