l Tashi Wangmo, Thimphu
Despite numerous efforts put by the government and relevant agencies to bring women in the forefront of politics, political parties still struggle to get women aspirants in their circles.
Considering the importance of women representations in governance, the government has approved six months maternity leave and established Early Child Care Development (ECCD) centers so that they get fair amount of time.
Agencies like Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW) and National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) have been continuously advocating and training women so as to encourage them to join politics. But still, not much has changed.
According to the president of Druk Gaki Tshogpa (DGT), Cheku Dukpa, in democracy, an equal representation of men and women is of paramount importance.
“The very fundament of democracy is to have equal representations from all sections of the country. We need to have equal numbers of men and women in the parliament but this is impractical in our country at the moment. It is not because the political parties deny our women the opportunity but it is because not many women come forward,” said Cheku Dukpa.
“In any case, I am against any reservation quota because I think leaders have to be those who are competent. By reserving seats for minorities and women, there are chances that we get bad leaders?” he added.
The executive committee member of Bhutan Kuen-nyam Party, Karma Loday, in an earlier interview said that his party always welcomes women candidates.
“We are not apprehensive about women joining us but I think it is traditional beliefs and social norms that bind their legs. Since ages, our forefathers had never accepted women in the lead roles and thus, to change this mindset, I think it will take some time,” said Karma Loday.
The Secretary General of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Tenzin Lekphel, said DNT has been encouraging women to take part in politics.
“Every time we met people, we have been stressing on the importance of women participation. As a result, today we have one candidate. We hope to get more women in our party,” he said.
Asked about his party’s strategy to lure more women in politics, he said before trying to find women candidates, they have to change the mindset of the electorates. And that, he said, can be done through extensive advocacy and awareness programmes.
“Even for a man like me, it was very tough to decide joining politics. And once we are in politics, we have to sacrifices lot of things. In our culture, women play the most important role in building up families, and thus, I think most of our women populace at the moment are not ready to risk the future of their families by joining politics,” said Tenzin Lekphel.
The president of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), Lily Wangchuk, in an earlier interview with The Journalist, said that gender equality is not an issue in Bhutan.
“The problem is in the representation of women in politics and it is because of social norms and family obligations. I personally made a nation-wide tour to encourage women to join politics but the outcome was next to nothing,” said Lily Wangchuk, adding that she is hopeful that things might change sooner.
The director of BNEW, Phuntshok Chhoden, said that although agencies like hers cannot directly get involved in rallying women candidates, they do work hard to encourage more women to contest for lead roles in the country.
“We constantly organize awareness and advocacy programmes to educated our women on the importance of women representations in governance,” said the director.
A businessman, Kinley, said that gender bias did prevail in the past. “Women were deprived of equal opportunities in the olden days, but due to modern education, this stereotypical notion does not exist anymore. Yet, if we look at the numbers of women in the parliament, it is very poor,” said Kinley.
“I feel that more than encouraging women to come forth, we have to educate our electorates on the importance of equal representation of male and female in politics,” said Kinley.
Meanwhile, there are some people who are optimistic about getting more women elected in future elections.
“Today, we have fairly good number of educated women and more are studying in various universities across the globe. I think in near future, this issue will be resolved,” said a civil servant, Sonam Tshering.