Bhutan’s Queen Mother promotes women’s education during Canberra visit
T he Queen Mother of Bhutan has a passion for girls’ education that has spurred her to ride horseback through snow, and trek on foot to remote communities in her homeland.
But Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck has travelled much further to enlist help for the cause of empowering women and girls in Bhutan.
The royal, who is stepmother to Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is spending several days in Canberra to promote various charities benefitting those women and girls.
On Thursday, Bhutanese students from the University of Canberra performed a traditional dance in celebration of her visit.
The visit was partly to support the efforts of the Australian Himalayan Foundation (AHF), a charitable organisation which taps Australian sponsors to provide education facilities in Himalayan countries including Nepal, India and Bhutan.
AHF has partnered with the Queen Mother’s own charitable institution, called RENEW, whose stated goals including “addressing traditional biases and mindsets in Bhutanese society” and “working on women being accepted as equal partners in everyday life”.
“It’s all part of a major cause of hers, which is empowerment of women and girls, to give them more life and work opportunities, and to bring them into leadership positions,” said the AHF’s Simon Balderstone.
Mr Balderstone said there were significant barriers to educational opportunities in Bhutan, including remoteness, poverty and a lack of basic equipment for students.
“Our program provides them with basic needs like school meals, which is often the only meal they’ll have in the day, school textbooks, and boarding facilities,” he said.
“The Queen Mother does an incredible job. She actually walks out there, or rides horses out there to visit these very remote communities.
“She started this pro- gram, it’s her passion, and she does an amazing hands-on job.”
Bhutanese Ambassador Kesang Wangdi said it was an honour for Canberra to host the royal visit.
“This adds to the growing ties of friendship between Australia and Bhutan,” he said.
“The fact that she has chosen this University of Canberra is also another significant factor, in that many Bhutanese students come here and they go back as very, very viable citizens of Bhutan.”