Where Men Are Hap­pier

The lot of women in Bhutan needs to be re-ex­am­ined to bring them at par with men.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Fa­tima Siraj The writer is cur­rently pur­su­ing a BBA de­gree. She fo­cuses on mar­ket­ing and so­cial is­sues.

Women could do with

more sup­port.

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.

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