The study indicates mental barriers in both Bhutanese men and women can continue to make it very difficult for women to participate in public life
In a society where gender stereotypes run deep, women are portrayed as less capable than men. This is accepted by not only men but a large majority of Bhutanese women themselves, according to a study that was commissioned by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and launched on 14 October in the capital during the Bhutan+10 conference.
Key findings of the study shows such attitude leads to women having lower expectations of themselves, of their leadership capabilities and their role in politics. This low self-esteem, the report states is derived from the pervasive belief in society that leadership and politics are purely masculine.
“While definitely more men hold such views than women, it is significant to note that women share the misplaced gender beliefs that persist in society. Without effective interventions in place, such persistent views can make it very difficult for women to participate in public life,” states the study report.
The study also found that women’s participation in public life is constrained by their traditional functional roles as housewives and mothers, and more often than not, the need to generate income as well. It states “faced with this double or even triple burden, they have less time and energy to partake in public life than men, who often have only one task, generating income. This discourages and prevents women from engaging in politics.”
While women made up 31.6% of the civil service in June last year, their leadership representation was very low, with only 3.85% as secretaries and 3.25% as directors. Less than 14% of women represent the Bhutanese Parliament, and with the first ever local government elections held in June, 2011, less than 5% of the newly elected local leaders are women.
Other key factors as reported by the study that disable women participation are socio-economic barriers, lack of enabling environment for women’s empowerment, patriarchal values and election system and processes among others.
The report also provides a horde of recommendations which could perhaps increase women’s participation in public life. Among others, it includes establishment of day care centers in communities, as well as effective interventions to dispel the mental barriers that women are less capable then men. It includes sustained gender awareness programs that can also be tied with non-formal education program to break down the barrier of low self- esteem, and institute compulsory education up to the tenth grade to ensure that lack of education doesn’t stop women from participating in politics, as well as continue to promote non-formal education programs with greater vigor.
The national plan of action for gender 2008-13 reflects, out of the total 2,117 elected representatives in the country, only 4% are women.
While it was only recently this year that the country had its first women Drangpon and a Dzongda (governor), there has been no women minister in the history of Bhutan.