With the 2013 elections around the corner one of the emerging issues is women’s representation and role in politics.
Currently Bhutan’s Parliament is overwhelmingly dominated by men both in the National Assembly and the National Council with women MPs from both houses numbering in the single digits. The Cabinet also is entirely a men’s club with no woman minister. Local governments are also mainly dominated by men.
This is in the context of Bhutan being a new Democracy and a developing nation, where like in most other developing nation’s men disproportionately hold the reins of power.
This, however, does not mean that the status quo should be allowed to continue. Bhutanese politics be it the cabinet, ruling party, opposition party, National Council or local government all must accept and encourage women’s participation.
There are two pressing reasons for getting women in politics, one is strengthening our democracy and the other is enhancing good governance.
For a democratic country with around 50% of the population as women it is absurd to have little or no women leaders in the country. A balanced Parliament or Cabinet with adequate women leaders will only lead to a more representative and healthy democracy. It will also be a Parliament or Cabinet more sensitive to women and children’s issue and enjoy a more balanced and comprehensive view on several legislative and administrative issues.
There is overwhelming evidence from around the world that a fair representation of women in politics does a world of good for good governance. These women leaders who often represent around 50% of the population with needs and issues often qualitatively different from men play a major role in ensuring that laws and policies are in tune with ground realities of not just men but also women and children. The clarity and quality of laws and policies like Domestic Violence Bill, setting the legal age for consensual sex, punishment for rape, Tobacco Act, Youth policies, Education policies, Health policies etc could all have been greatly improved with more women MPs and leaders.
An example of women’s role in politics can be seen in the highly sophisticated American Presidential elections. For women voters issues like Health, Education, maternal care and etc hold more importance. They are also less likely to vote for a war mongering or hard line President.
In Bhutanese families and society women play a key role either as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. Women can be the best nurturers, best advisers, best homemakers and a source of great love and stability among several other positive qualities. These and several other positive qualities brought about at the national leadership level will only enhance the vibrancy and diversity of our young democracy. At the same time it is also neither humane nor democratic to not allow such a significant and important demography to have a fair representation in politics.
The notion that women are somehow less capable in public service is a wrong notion. In fact there is a lot of evidence from academic results to performance in the civil service that show that women are no lesser then men. In fact women leaders or representatives are more sensitive, less likely to be corrupt, less likely to have drinking problems, less likely to go after young women or make them feel unsafe and also less likely to be found in Drayangs and bars.
Political parties and institution must also recognize the key role played by women in Bhutanese electoral politics at the local and national level. This is because more often than not the majority of participants in a village zomdu will be women who will go back home and relay the message.
An emerging issue now also is how can women’s representation be achieved in politics? One option is mandatory reservation of seats while the other is political parties and institutions being more pro active in including women leaders.
The reality is that political parties and institutions have been high on rhetoric and low on output in terms of women candidates.
The above reasons show that the current trend of male dominated leadership at all levels cannot be allowed to continue forever. Bhutan for its own sake must consider the issue of women’s reservation of seats in electoral bodies for a more representative, strong and vibrant democracy in a way that is in keeping with local ground realities but is also not held back by traditional barriers.