A critical issue continues to cast a shadow over the democratic fabric of the nation – the underrepresentation of women in key political positions. As voices from various regions express their opinions on the matter, it becomes evident that the struggle for gender equality in politics is both a pressing concern and a catalyst for change.
Aman from Samdrupjongkhar highlights the importance of women’s representation, emphasizing that it ensures the voices of women are heard in the decision-making process.
He said, “It is mostly male-dominated,” shedding light on the prevailing gender imbalance in Bhutanese politics. This sentiment is echoed by Kezang Choden from Samtse, who sees women’s political representation as crucial for the empowerment of women in believing they can contribute significantly to the nation’s development.
The recent National Assembly Elections 2023-24 serve as a stark illustration of the challenges faced by women in entering the political arena. As only two women was elected, and concerns about worsening in gender equality surfaced.
Kezang Choden laments over the conditioned acceptance of male leadership as the norm, pointing to societal prejudices and regional imbalances as obstacles to women’s active participation.
Sumikha from Sarpang delves into the numerical aspect, noting that women are underrepresented in key political positions. She said, “During this NA elections, there were only 2 out of 23 female candidates were elected, reflecting a mere 4 percent representation despite women constituting 47 percent of the country’s population. This prompts a call for more initiatives to increase women’s participation in democratic processes.”
While acknowledging the increase in women’s participation in recent elections, Sumikha said, “The need for awareness campaigns and sensitization to overcome the patriarchal mindset that hinders our progress. I call for more women in decision-making bodies.”
Similarly, Aman’s belief that increased representation would have a wider impact, ensuring that the diverse needs of women are heard and validated.
The idea of quotas or affirmative action policies to guarantee a minimum level of women’s representation finds support among several voices. Sumikha advocates for quotas, suggesting that a relative representation in line with the female population could be a fair approach.
Similarly, Sonam Tshomo said, “Reserving 5 out of the 10 ministries for women, would be a good move, and I believe it would encourage more women to participate in politics and bring a diversified perspective to policymaking.”
She also emphasized the need for diversification in policies and highlights the potential positive impact of women in politics, particularly in addressing the needs of diverse communities. She suggests the introduction of quotas, reserving a certain number of ministries for women, as a step towards ensuring their active participation and representation.
Letho from Punakha emphasizes the unique understanding women bring to the table along with other people. He said, “Only a woman can understand another woman’s needs.” However, he also acknowledges the need for addressing the root causes of low female participation, highlighting the importance of boosting confidence and support for women in politics.
The evolving perceptions of women’s leadership come to the forefront as the voices in Bhutan share their views. While Aman sees a gradual evolution with more people desiring women representation, Sonam Tshomo notes that although improvements have occurred, the majority still believes men make better leaders.
On the other hand, the consensus appears to be that while gender is a factor, decisions are also influenced by candidates’ manifestos and presentations to the public.
Dema Lhamo contemplating the historical lack of women leaders, expresses a desire for new initiatives to encourage politically capable women. She said, “I envision a Bhutan where age restrictions don’t limit women’s participation, and I support the idea of quotas to ensure women representation in politics.”
As Bhutan grapples with the complexities of gender representation in politics, it is evident that the journey towards a more inclusive democracy is ongoing. The diverse perspectives from individuals highlighted the multifaceted challenges faced by women in Bhutanese politics. Their voices collectively advocate for systemic changes, awareness programs, and affirmative actions to empower women, ensuring their active and meaningful participation in shaping the nation’s future.