The Gender Divide

Written by Nida Hussain  •  Region  •  May 2013 PDF Print E-mail

The-Gender-DivideFemale political participation is on the rise in Bhutan. However, the country still has a long way to go before its women can leave an indelible mark on the political landscape.

Women in Bhutan have remained over-shadowed by the male population in the field of politics throughout time. Interestingly, a myriad of reasons contribute to this trend, none of which particularly challenge conventional wisdom.  The usual demons of illiteracy, poverty and backwardness have fettered the women, rendering their political representation negligible. Only six female representatives serve in the National Council and four in the National Assembly. While legal documents might accord women equal status, the reality is different.

The struggles aimed at achieving political freedom for Bhutanese women have become accentuated over time. The exclusion factor has deprived them from the right to have a say in the country’s political affairs. Surprisingly, a recent study reflected the low self-dignity that increasingly checks women in Bhutan from participating in the political system. Illiteracy and lack of awareness greatly contribute to the alarming trend. One of the major predicaments in the upcoming elections will be the representation of women in the political mainstream, with the United Nations closely monitoring developments. In Bhutan, however, the predispositions among genders exist ostensibly through norms and culture rather than legal terms.

Unfortunately, women have a low literacy level due to high dropout rates in high schools and educational institutions. Furthermore, technology and advanced science exclusively remain under the grasp of men and pressing responsibilities in the household often bar women from extra participation. Statistics show that 10 out of 72 parliamentarians are women, denoting 14% female political representation. At the local level, the numbers drop to 7%. Despite these unimpressive statistics, data reveals that nearly 60% women are interested in participating in the political system.

As cited by the women of Bhutan, a low level of inspiration is also a major reason for their less active participation in the political framework. The chauvinistic approach of men often defines women as incompetent for the best jobs, promoting the reasoning that men safeguard the elements of honesty, toil, focus and perseverance more than women. Women also believe that men are better suited for the political arena but the view differs when it comes to social issues. It is, therefore, imperative that the status quo be modified and the idea of lesser participation by women be abandoned. South Asia has enough examples of powerful women who have managed to break through the threshold of a male-dominated environment. Srimavo Bandaranaike and . Chandrika Kamaratunga of Sri Lanka, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Indira Gandhi of India and Haseena Wajid and Begum Zia of Bangladesh have all gained worldwide recognition through their political careers.

In Bhutan, stereotypes and mainstream thinking have constricted the public participation of women to a great extent.  If women don’t have fundamental training, skills, determination and vision about the policy-making or decision-making processes, it is imprudent to continue. The compassionate nature of women should be taken as a strength, not a weakness to tread on. As the elections approach, the Government must ensure equal voting and representation. Amongst other measures, a certain number of reserved seats for women must be ensured and voting should be encouraged.

To further such initiatives, the United Nations has launched a regional program to promote assistance and knowledge to women in Bhutan, working in close co-ordination with the Government and United Nations Development Program. The central aim is to bring forth women in leadership and governance roles. Moreover, women should be encouraged to have a firm grasp on education. Motivation from female political representatives can produce salubrious results and lead to positive changes in the country in the long run. 

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