Where Men Are Happier
The lot of women in Bhutan needs to be re-examined to bring them at par with men.
Women could do with
Rather than being a nation that focuses on common economic measures, such as GDP, that most countries make use of to determine their progress, Bhutan has been known for its unique approach to prosperity that focuses on the wellbeing of its people. The country’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index has
been a refreshing statistic that has set this nation apart in a world that values economic growth more than the general well-being of the population. However, Bhutan’s levels of well-being, satisfaction or ‘happiness’, are far from equal when it comes to gauging them across genders. The multi-dimensional GNH index covers nine areas, which include time use, literacy and education, political participation, life satisfaction, living standards and social support. Describing how the index works, the Asian Development Bank said in a report, “assessments using the index consider the proportion of respondents that have achieved a ‘sufficiency’ on each indicator as well as well-being above that.” Based on this assessment, the 2010 GNH Report found that only 33% of women had achieved sufficiency or ‘happiness’ as compared to 49% men. This significant gap reflects the troubling fact that women are less happy in Bhutan than men.
In 2015, the Global Gender Gap Report ( GGGR), which uses a gender index to examine countries across education, health, political empowerment and economic opportunities, found that Bhutan remains a South Asian country that faces the worst gender disparities. These disparities are particularly pronounced in the areas of health and political empowerment. The results are backed by statistics that shed some light on just how wide the gap is in these two areas. Female representation, both in the parliament and in local government bodies, is significantly low, standing at 9% and 7%, respectively. Women are also poorly represented in the civil service, especially at the upper decision-making levels. According to a 2014 report published by the Asian Development Bank, it was found that in 2012 only 36% of all civil servants were female with a mere 6% being a part of the executive level. Furthermore, there was only one female district administrator (Dzondag) out of the total twenty and very few female judges.
This under-representation is a reflection of the attitudes prevalent in Bhutan regarding women’s potential to succeed in leadership roles. A 2010 study focusing on these attitudes is worth discussing here as the sample surveyed consisted of students of the Sherubtse College. Being Bhutan’s leading educational institution, the college grooms a large chunk of the nation’s new generation of leaders both in the private and public sectors. What they think is therefore of great relevance but the results sadly indicate discriminative attitudes towards women.
When asked about the comparative capacity of men and women for leadership, male participants responded by saying that men made the best leaders (58%) while 78% of women thought that their capacity was more or less equal to that of their male counterparts. When asked why they think few women hold top leadership positions in public office or politics, men responded by attributing such under-representation to women’s lack of drive, toughness and leadership qualities. Women, on the other hand, attributed it to societal factors and discrimination.
Furthermore, with regard to health, the Global Gender Gap Report found that women are more likely than men to fall victims to deaths resulting from heart disease and diabetes. These lower life chances can be attributed to the many issues women face at home and outside. One such issue relates to the increasing demands on women that ultimately take a toll on their physical and mental well -being. The same GNH study of 2010 that found women to be less happy than men concluded that Bhutanese women were overworked and time-deprived. Their home and community responsibilities add to their economic and agricultural activities and this makes a working day for them very long indeed. Their ‘work’ consists of many forms of unpaid labour, including childcare, household maintenance, farming, gardening, looking after the sick and community work.
Even in areas of employment and education, while there is improvement, there is still much that needs to be done to close the gender gap. Particularly troubling is the fact that despite increasing levels of equality in education, employment levels still remain much lower for women than for men. This is especially pronounced in the urban areas where unemployment levels for women at all levels of education are very high, especially those having acquired tertiary education. The situation stands is in contrast to the one in rural areas where women dominate and work hand in hand with men, resulting in them being overworked as they have to shoulder the burden of domestic duties as well. There is a great need to pay attention to women’s needs in the context in which they work. While there needs to be more access to employment opportunities for women in urban areas, there needs to be more support for women in rural areas too so that they can have a healthy work-life balance.
It is the responsibility of all stakeholders involved to bring forth and highlight women’s issues so that they can be dealt with proactively. There needs to be pressure on the government to introduce womenfriendly legislation. According to the chairperson of the Women’s Committee in the parliament, which also deals with children and youth issues, there have hardly been any issues that have been referred. He urged agencies to refer problems that can be solved through legislative action so that recommendations may be made to the parliament. He quoted the example of a six -month maternity leave proposed by the Royal Civil Service Commission, saying it has been taken in a positive light by the government. If more such proposals are put forward, the path can be paved for a reduction in gender based disparities across the country.