While education is free, it is not free of risks to our girls
The government concerns for the teenage girls and highlighted few of the initiatives to enable and empower the teenage daughters to be happy and successful.
The government is carrying out activities for the special needs of women in general and girls in particular. Under the leadership of His Majesty The Queen Mother Ashi Sangey Choden Wangchuck , RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women) has rightfully earned the respect and affection of the Bhutanese society as the champion for the cause of women, “RENEW has changed mindsets. Educate us on the dignity womanhood. Taught us need to respect women. Shone the light to ‘women in trouble’ when all else darkened. Inspired us to build a good society where men and women can do better and greater together,” Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk said at the world population day on 11th June.
The minister also said that children, especially girls have been always been at the heart of the Bhutanese. They have traditionally been the source of Happiness however, as a society it is also recognized how vulnerable the daughters can be, “In the past we kept our daughters home-safe from any elements that risked their being. Even away from schools,” he said.
About a population of 700,000 people in the country, out of which 50% are women. Currently 1, 72,000 students studying in many schools spread throughout the country, out of which 50% of the students are girls.
The Minister reported, “I am happy to report that 99% of our children are enrolled in the primary education programme. This indicates that almost all our children including girls are in the schools. Moreover, our statistics show that our girls are doing equally well compared to their male counterparts all throughout the school system. He further added, “These are matters to be proud of, there are always the concerns to be mindful of when it comes to our teenage girls. Their vulnerabilities can easily be exploited, abused and misguided upon.”
The government has estimated a significant number of teenage girls live with distant relatives or in rented apartments especially prominent in urban areas such as Thimphu and Phuentsholing, “Without the adequate pastoral care and supervision, these girls are vulnerable to exploitation, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and subsequently dropping out of school,” the minister added.
The Minister also shared the difficulties of the children while receiving education especially girls. As per the address, there are about 10,000 children who walk more than 2 hours to school and back home, “These children half of whom are girls spend considerable time travelling time travelling between school and home. The exhaustion of walking everyday through rough terrain and harsh conditions and the lesser time spent studying consequently risks not getting quality education and dropping out of school,” he added.
The government has established the central schools where students are kept as boarding under the supervision of the school where especially girls do not have to put themselves at the risk while receiving their education. The government plans to have almost all the students in the boarding schools through central schools. There will be 60 central schools in the 11th plan and 60 in the 12th plan totaling of 120 central schools throughout the country, “Central Schools would benefit especially our girl students who are more vulnerable than the boys,” the minister said.
The Ministry of Education has rescinded a policy that prohibited urban schools to have boarding facilities by the next academic year. Lyonpo said, “We have allowed schools in urban areas especially private schools to have boarding and hostel facilities if they so wish. We hope our teenage girls would benefit by keeping themselves from harm’s way under the supervision of proper boarding and hostel facilities.”
The health of the teenage girls assumes greater importance not only to enhance academic performance but also the will soon become mothers. The government has developed Bhutan Dietary Guidelines to provide food menu to encourage quality food on daily basis in the schools and also provided day meals to children who have to walk long distance from home to school, “Government takes extra care in ensuring that our children get adequate nutrition and the required nutrients,” Minister said.
Some of the measures to support the working mothers are the institution of six-month maternity leave and the establishment of Early Child Care and Development Centers (ECCD). The government is also encouraging the private sector to support their working mothers similarly. Lyonpo said that the double and triple burden imposed on our women, having to take care of children, home and the job, women are constrained from building a career of their choice unlike her male counterpart.