The Gen­der Di­vide

Fe­male 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

Southasia - - Contents - By Nida Hus­sain Nida Hus­sain is a free­lance writer with fo­cus on South Asian af­fairs and hu­man rights. She holds a de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions from the Univer­sity of Karachi.

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 il­liter- acy, 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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