As one of the happiest countries in the world, one might have a niggling question about the gender dynamics in Bhutan. Generally a typical Bhutanese women is considered a matriarch and from the accounts of those who comment on it women are liberated, tough and successful.
There are instances like the increasing cases of domestic violence that RENEW receives and the limited number of women in the parliament that depict otherwise. It doesn’t add up to the common notion.
The latest Gross National Happiness Survey revealed that women are less happy compared to men, this is consistent to 2010 findings. In the current parliament only 6 women are elected members, compared to the 10 elected previously.
A study by National Commission for Women and Children in 2011 stated that there has not been any major studies in the Bhutanese context to find gender gaps and biases in major key areas of education, economy, decision-making and political participation.
As noted by the ECB, women’s participation in the political arena is drearily low, and their visibility in all key decision making positions is suggestively minimal.
Before taking on to the situation of women’s participation in the national decision making front, a look at the situation of the worldwide political scenario is worth the effort.
Bhutan is ranked 164th among 191 countries from the data compiled by Inter-Parliamentary Union on the basis of information provided by the National Parliaments. Bhutan ranks lower compared to its neighbors like Nepal at 47, Afghanistan at 50, Pakistan at 84 and India at 144.
Although leaving behind countries like Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Bhutan has only 8.3% of seats for women in the political houses.
Even among the south Asian countries apart from Sri Lanka and Maldives, Bhutan stands poorly on the issue of women participation in the parliament. The Parliament of Bhutan comprises of 72 members of whom only 6 are women (2/25 in National Council and 4/47 in National Assembly). It is evident that women participation in the decision making in the government level is very low.
Mrs. Namgay Peldon 33 is a mother two children and she is the only female Gup in Bhutan. She serves in Tashiding gewog under Dagana Gewog. The Bhutanese spoke to her about her experiences as the only female Gup.
“Although I am the only female among all the other Gups, I have not faced a major problem per se, but in a room full of men it is often disappointing to not see another woman.” she said.
“In my Gewog, people are nice to me and do not undermine me. That might be because I have the title but it is often difficult to defend a woman’s perspective during meetings with other Gups.” Also she added that one might consider that getting pregnant and having a child could disrupt the authority, but the cooperation and functional roles of the people working in the office is enough to stabilize it.
She also said that she encourages women and young girls to step up because unlike the old days physical strength is not in the agenda.
The issue of women’s participation in local governance is not a matter of sufficient women voting as per the studies done by NCWC. The main issue is the chronically limited engagement of women in public life and politics.
The findings indicate that there are several constraining factors among which lack of education and training, lack of functional literacy skills and limited involvement and skills of women in decision making (both at house hold and community level) are included.
Pema Dorji, Gup of Zobel Gewog in PemaGatshel said that it is very convenient to work with fellow female colleagues. The Gewog has a female mangmi, Sonam Choden. “There is nothing a woman cannot do, we are always doing some kind of awareness program about gender equality and there are people who solemnly agree.” He also said that the elderly people are still skeptic about a woman’s capabilities which might be because of the cultural mindset they have had for decades.
Tika Ghalley, a former Tshogpa of one of the Gewogs in Samtse happily says that she had a very bittersweet experience as a tshogpa. From people who believed in her to people who mocked her in the beginning. “I have able to instill the faith and respect a woman representative of a community deserves, It is still new to some people to listen to a woman but that brushes away time.”
This article was made possible due to support from the Department of Information and Media