Debate on effectiveness of quotas to achieve gender equality was the highlight at the ministerial high level panel on the first day of Bhutan+10 conferences
Ministers and participants from different countries expressed varying opinions on women quota during the first day and first panel discussions of Bhutan +10, an international conference, which began earlier this week on 15 October.
One of the important questions raised by the Director General of International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Dr. David Molden was with regard to the effectiveness of quota to achieve gender equality. “It is been argued that the best way to begin to achieve gender transformative change is by introducing quotas for women in key decision making positions, institutions and bodies. Do you think that this is an effective means to achieve change in the region and beyond,” Dr. Molden asked the panelists.
Education minister Thakur S. Powdyel who is also the chair of National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) insisted enabling conditions be created for women’s independence rather than introducing a quota system deliberately.
Lyonpo Thakur said “creation of necessary, positive, enabling conditions would be far more important than simply setting aside quotas and hoping that everything will be in order”.
“I believe we don’t actually need to pursue quotas as such, deliberately and consciously but if we are able to create the conditions or the environment, I believe both men and women or all these disadvantaged groups will be able to flower n bloom,” he said.
Be that as it may, Norway’s Minister of International Development Heikki Holmas strongly seconded the quota system. He said research shows that men tend to pick men, so the quota ensures that women are picked.
“I fully agree that we need to create positive conditions but If you want to recruit women, you need to have more recruiters that are women and the only way to be able to do that is by having quotas,” he argued.
Citing the example of Norway, he said more women in top positions can bring about positive changes in policies.
Norway has quotas to ensure 40% women representation in public life.
Afghanistan’s Minister of Women Affairs Dr. Hussun Banu Ghazanfar said “gender quotas do not seem to create backlash among citizens. Citizens use information about women leaders’ performance to update their beliefs about women.”
Lyonpo Thakur said quotas are rather a controversial and sensitive issue. “I think quotas are a double edged sword. They are good to a point where equality or equity is achieved. But beyond that they may create a situation which could be quite the reverse of what you actually want,” he explained.
“So if we create conditions rather than pursue quotas, which will lead to independence rather than limit people to a condition of dependence,” he added.
Pakistan’s Minister of Social Welfare and Population Saleem Khan said quota is important in his country because there are not always equal opportunities or facilities for women to compete with men. “There are many schools for boys in Pakistan but fewer schools for girls,” he said.
The Agriculture and Forests Minister Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho said quota system works very well in the Scandinavian countries or advanced nations but doubted if the time is right for developing countries to introduce quota systems particularly in Bhutan.
He cited historical reasons for the inequality of men and women in top positions in Bhutan. He said there wasn’t any enabling environment for women. “When we started our education system, it involved walking by foot for days and days through dense forest,” he explained.
Lyonpo Pema also underscored the education minister’s remarks on the current situation in Bhutan with regard to search of candidates for the next parliamentary elections. “The ruling party, opposition as well as the new parties are desperately head hunting for women candidates,” he said.
One of the participants at the conference, National Assembly (NA) member Karma Lhamo said it is “important to introduce quota system” despite its drawbacks.
While she supported the idea to create positive conditions, the NA MP questioned the time period required as well. “How long is it going to take to create the enabling environment,” she asked.
To this, Lyonpo Thakur said “it took a couple of months for Honorable MP Karma Lhamo to graduate from being a primary school teacher to being a member of parliament of Bhutan. So going by this trend, I would believe that Bhutan is doing very well and will continue to do very well.”
Speaking to The Bhutanese, MP Karma Lhamo said while she agrees with the minister, creating enabling environment is a time consuming process. “We have currently 13% women representation in parliament, so let’s see if the number increases or not in the next elections. If it increases, maybe the honorable minister maybe right but if it doesn’t increase, we will definitely fight for it,” she said.
Earlier this year, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) that works toward empowering and strengthening women’s participation in politics through capacity building and evidence-based policy advocacy organized a UN conference. It was a two-day meeting in the capital that saw senior government officials, mostly women, from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Norway and Nepal, discuss the promotion of women’s political leadership and governance in India and south Asia.
One of the presenters at the then conference had argued, Bhutan lacked a legislation to ensure a minimum level of women’s representation in the country, although there is a 13% women representation in the first parliament.
Besides the debate on quota, the high level panels discussed milestones achieved since the first meeting in Bhutan in 2002, ways to make good policies reach ground reality and removal of mental barriers among others.
Bhutan+10 is organized by ICIMOD in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests NCWC with participants from around the globe and Hindu Kush Himalayas that includes mountain women and men, researchers, policy makers, and development practitioners in a post-Rio+20 world for a comprehensive update and setting of new agenda.
The five- day conference includes plenary sessions, panels, and discussions on six themes -Climate Change: gender and adaptation, Livelihoods: inclusive sustainable development, Governance: gender-responsive policies and plural institutions, Gender-Positive Change: successes, challenges, and agenda-setting for gender ‘mainstreaming’, Ecosystems: benefit sharing, access, and equity in diverse environments and common property regimes, Water: equitable access, control, and benefits of water resources.
Bhutan+10: ‘Gender and sustainable Mountain Development in a Changing World’ comes a decade after the country hosted an international conference ‘Celebrating Mountain Women‘, which was also organized by ICIMOD.
Talking to The Bhutanese, ICIMOD’s Director for Program Operations Eklabya Sharma said “2002 was the international year of mountains and the only one organized for women was in Thimphu.”
He said “this time it’s more of a knowledge oriented, content oriented conference where we are bringing various issues and discussing it. Trying to do the situation analysis on all possibilities and discussing what could be the future agenda for the next five to ten years.”
“ICIMOD takes this conference, Bhutan+10 as agenda setting for us to work in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region,” said Director for Program Operations Eklabya Sharma.