Far from inclusive democracy

| Kuenzang Namgyal, Thimphu


The political drill for our nation’s third parliamentary elections has begun. Aspiring candidates of the National Council (NC) and National Assembly (NA) have started their familiarization tours. Social capital is being robustly built and our people in the villages are seeing long-lost “children of their soil” return to serve them. Like a friend remarked, politics is perhaps the best tool to address rural – urban migration.

At the capital, political parties are declaring their candidates; each claiming that the calling to give back to their ancestral homes, what they got, has dawned. Trumpets are being blown; with every individual saying that the parties they are joining is the best for the country. Whether they get to serve or not, is another question.

Nothing is perfect. And the current political drama follows this dictum. For, an important brick in nation building: an issue that is used and misused at international, regional and national dialogues; a concern that all leaders talk about, does not seem to have caught the imagination of our leaders. The reference here is to our mothers, sisters and daughters, called in social and political literature as women representation.

It can justifiably be said that not much has been done in this area. A click on Bhutan Broadcasting Services’ (BBS) two channels, showing deliberations of the 10th session of the Second Parliament, augments the argument. Both houses of the august body are dominated by male representatives. It is an irony, for these are the houses, enshrined with the responsibility to see that the feminine gender’s representation is not dismal.

Politicians will argue that dramatic strides have been made. But at the most they can just speak about the Domestic Violence Act 2011, The Termalinca Declaration and the six month maternity leave. There is not much to boast. Indeed! All three are developments to aid women. But just one – the Termalinca Declaration – has the steam to see that the “beauties” find a seat amongst the “beasts.” But unfortunately, it has remained a declaration.

There are people’s representatives, members of the Parliament (MPs) who say that the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is mandated to ensure that women are properly represented. Others point their fingers to non-profit organizations like Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW). This is disheartening, for these MPs do not seem to know that only the Parliament can come up with Bills and Acts to create conditions that would permit more women representatives. The ECB and BNEW can only educate our women of the need to participate directly in the election process. They cannot dictate terms to political parties.

Opponents may also say that women are given equal opportunities. People do not elect them. Another lame defense, without teeth, for a look at the last elections show that women have been used as sacrificial lambs at the political altar. Parties have pitched almost all women candidates in constituencies where they had no chance of winning. In layman language, they were used to fill the seats. This is not “giving equal opportunities.” Select a woman in a constituency where a party is strong! It may near the definition of equal opportunity. And experience has shown that women can emerge victorious if such platforms are provided. We do not need to mull over. The four women MPs sitting in the NA validates this.

We are a society that has achieved gender parity in education. Reports say that it is only in tertiary education where women somehow fail to rub shoulders with their opposite sex. However, the increasing number of women seeking jobs after graduation indicates that Bhutanese women have scaled peaks. Today we see women in almost all rungs of the workforce. Similarly, women participate actively in the electoral process, indirectly, as voters. During the last parliamentary elections, there were more women voters in the NC elections, while the number of women voters in the NA elections was almost equal to their male counterparts.

It may be argued that women themselves need to come forward. But for anyone to move ahead, a congenial environment is required. In the political pitch, such facilitations are made through provisions such as quota system for women. This is practiced is several democracies. But it does not mean that we imbibe same or similar measures. For a nation which prides to be unique, we can have our own tailored mechanisms. For instance, it will not be a difficult task for political parties to earmark some slots for aspiring women candidates.

With international and national policies now focusing on inclusive development, women’s direct participation in the political process should be taken as an area requiring attention. For, this could be the first move towards addressing political inclusiveness, whose reach goes far beyond women representation.

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