Plenty of barriers for women in politics

The first parliamentary elections in 2008 had women’s participation at 14 percent. Although the second parliamentary elections in 2013 saw the appointment of the first-ever female cabinet minister, however, just 8 percent of women’s participation was recorded during the time.

As per the survey done by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), the percentage of women in Parliament is just 8.3 percent.

Election officer, ECB, Kibu Zangpo said that the factor behind women not coming forward to participate in elections is due to the fear of losing their secure jobs. He said women also tend to place more importance on domestic and family responsibilities over political ambition. He said the survey found that most women lack confidence in themselves to face up to a political life.  The survey points out that 1 percent of women responded saying they do not get the support from their families even if they are interested in joining politics.

32.1 percent of the people who responded in the survey felt women are more suited for the teaching profession. 6.4 percent of the respondents noted that women are capable of being parliamentarians. 73.8 percent of female respondents said they were not interested, at all, to become political candidates in the future, whereas 9 percent of female respondents said they are highly interested for a life in the political sphere.

Kibu Zangpo said, “50 percent of women have no interest in becoming candidates because they cannot meet the educational qualification requirement.”

The survey states that 54.2 percent of survey respondents say there will be more female candidates in the future, 71.2 percent stated there should be more women participation in future elections, and 43.5 percent stated they will support and vote for female candidates in the future.

Women’s engagement or involvement is very low which hampers them from coming forward and it is where, according to the survey, 45.9 percent say reforms are needed in current practices,” Kibu Zangpo said.

The credibility, competence and educational qualification of a candidate are the qualities that voters look for. Most of the respondents in the survey pointed out that a male candidate is more capable, qualified and experienced, and a better leader than a woman, and therefore, preferred by the voters.

As for a way forward, in encouraging more women candidates in future, he said, “ There are efforts being placed to inform, educate and sensitize voters through civic and voter education to encourage and support women’s participation, including dissipating the notion and image that politics is dirty and to be engaged in by men only.”

Part of the sensitization effort will be to tackle the socio-cultural belief systems and traditions that supposedly undermine women’s social and cultural status. He also said that civic and voter education and information dissemination will have to be undertaken on a continuous basis, with specific and through targeted approach, to ensure that not only women are well informed but also to sensitize the men on the issue.

Guidance, mentoring, and training for competency and skills development are seen as key areas to enable women to contest in elections on equal terms as the men.

There are challenges as well opportunities for women in politics, and a few of the challenges were pointed out by the Executive Director, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), Kunzang Lhamu. She said that the five major key challenges is education and training, functional language skills, decision making, self image and self esteem and double or triple burden on women.

She said other challenges faced by women are attitudes and stereotypes, socio-economic barriers, patriarchal values, environment for women’s empowerment and election system and processes.

She added that there needs to be a mechanism to strengthen, sustain and groom potential women candidates. This comes from enhancing female education and graduation rate, promotion of a gender sensitive and supportive media in portraying female leaders positively and adopting appropriate affirmative action to enhance women’s participation in politics.

The global status 2015 shows that 13 women have served as Heads of State and 12 served as Heads of Government, 17 percent of government ministers were women, with majority overseeing social sectors, such as education and the family.

In addition, the status states that only 22 percent of all national parliamentarians were female as of August 2015, a slow increase from 11.3 percent in 1995. Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide (63.8 percent of seats in the lower house).

Around the world, the Pacific has the minimum percentage, 15.7 percent of women politicians and Nordic countries with the highest percentage, 41.1 percent of women politicians, whereas Asian countries are with 18.4 percent of women politicians.


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