Most conferences in Bhutan usually see a significant thinning out after lunch. However, ACC Chairperson Dasho Neten Zangmo in her closing remark said the ‘National Consultation-Conference on Women in Politics in Bhutan’ was the only conference of its sort in Bhutan where she saw participants staying well into evening for two consecutive days.
Such was the level of enthusiasm and interest generated by the conference attended by over 200 members from the Parliament, ministries, corporations, private sectors, government agencies, NGO’s and the media with the key focus being on women’s quota in Parliament.
The two day conference from April 1st to 2nd also saw an impromptu vote on the desirability of the quota issue with 74 votes in favor and 38 not in favor.
The conference led to a task force coming up with a recommendation based on the ‘way forward steps’ proposed by those attending the conference.
The recommendation said that goal should be to achieve 20 to 50 percent representation for women in the 2018 National Assembly and National Council elections and also a similar number for the upcoming 2016 Local government elections.
This quota is to be a temporary measure and can be done away with once Bhutan has 30 to 33 percent women in Parliament which would be in line with the 30 percent UN norm.
It also recommended a series of steps to help increase the participation of women in politics.
The steps include reviewing electoral laws and policies, civil service laws and other laws to make them more gender responsive and also review of school curriculum and environment to make it more gender sensitive.
It also recommended ensuring physical security during campaigns, enabling better pre-election environment including increased time for campaigns and common forums and being sensitive to livelihood and sustenance means.
The task force also recommended revising and mainstreaming gender into existing plans and policies, rules and regulations of the Government, Corporate and other sectors.
A mentoring programme for women MPs in Office and those aspiring to join politics in future and trainings on all aspects of capacity building was also recommended.
It also recommended facilitating change and creating institutionalize support systems to enable participation of women in politics and work towards ensuring inclusive democracy by the relevant agencies.
Looking at the role of the media and the need for lobbying the task force recommended carrying out serious advocacy at all levels on this issue.
The recommendations were presented to and endorsed by the gathering at the conference.
The main aim of the conference was keeping in mind the government’s promise to ensure 20 percent quota for women in the Parliament.
It was hoped that the intensive two day meet would provide enough stakeholder consultation and representation to help the government in drafting the necessary legislation for women’s quota.
The two day conference was organized by the Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW) and the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) with support from organizations like DIPD, SDC and UN Women.
The first day focused mainly on the experiences of women in politics in the 2008 and 2013 elections that set the ball rolling.
However, the main focus was on day two with discussions on Women’s Quota in Parliament. An eminent international expert on the issue Professor Drude Dalherup who is also an advisory to UN Women made a presentation of best international practices on Women’s Quota or reservation.
She said that the UN platform for action in its Beijing declaration in 1995 pledged to work towards equal participation of both sexes in decision making to reflect a true composition of society and strengthen democracy.
Professor Drude said that electoral gender quota was a major international electoral reform whereby 86 countries have introduced legislated electoral gender quota while another 35 countries have political parties using a voluntary women’s quota.
She highlighted that there was a shift away from the traditional women’s ‘lack of qualifications and interest’ arguments to political institution’s lack of inclusiveness and barriers where men actually end up getting an unofficial quota.
This was followed by a ten member panel discussion with five men and women including MPs, Corporate figures, Journalists and others on the issue of women’s quota. All members agreed that more needed to be done to include more women in politics though there were some differences on the need for quota.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister in the meet the press session said that the Quota issue merited more discussion indicating that it was not a done deal yet.
The PM said, “The government did pledge for a 20 percent quota but there are many differing voices and views including from women on whether the quota will benefit them. Rather if most people feel it will harm them then the government must stand corrected and be bold enough to say it so.”
He said in that case the government could work with men and women to look at ways to increase women’s participation in politics.
He said that government would have to see whether it goes ahead or doesn’t on the quota issue.
When informed that the recent conference had a majority supporting quota he said it needed proper discussion and for any legislation the support of MPs would be required.
The NCWC would be drafting any potential Quota legislation with the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly already looking into the issue. The government had also sought the views of the Election Commission on the issue.