Tough bat­tles women fight

Women can­di­dates face tremen­dous chal­lenges while con­test­ing for pub­lic of­fice

Business Bhutan - - Front Page - Chen­cho Dema From Thim­phu

Pol­i­tics in Bhutan con­tin­ues to be a pre­serve of the male. And women who come out to chal­lenge this no­tion do not have it easy.

The voices of these women, although de­feated but de­ter­mined, found am­ple ex­pres­sion at the 3rd Na­tional Con­fer­ence on Women in Pol­i­tics, Gov­er­nance and Lead­er­ship or­ga­nized by Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Women and Chil­dren (NCWC) and Bhutan Net­work for Em­pow­er­ing Women (BNEW) early this week.

Sonam Dema, a 40-year-old mother of six, con­tested the past two Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment (LG) elec­tions for the post of Gup, los­ing both the times to her male op­po­nents. But each elec­tion has made her stronger and more de­ter­mined. “I have lost two elec­tions but I am not giv­ing up,” she says.

When Sonam Dema de­cided to con­test for the post of Gup in Sam­mar Ge­wog in Haa back in 2011, she knew what she was get­ting into. But the enor­mity of her de­ci­sion dawned upon her only when she was ac­tu­ally in the field, fight­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with men who had it much eas­ier be­cause they were men.

“I was sur­prised by the at­ti­tude of peo­ple to­wards women who wanted to con­test in the elec­tions,” she says. “For­get about sup­port­ing and en­cour­ag­ing me, they dis­cour­aged me. More than any­thing I was shocked when my own fam­ily did not sup­port my de­ci­sion.”

The shock and dis­ap­point­ment have only ce­mented her will to prove her worth. And de­spite los­ing in 2011 LG elec­tions, she con­tested in the 2016 LG elec­tions. She lost again.

“Peo­ple doubt your ca­pa­bil­i­ties and with­out even let­ting us prove our com­pe­tence they make judg­ments that women are not ca­pa­ble to lead,” says Sonam Dema.

Thirty-six-year old Lhaki Wangmo ran for the post of Nanong Gup in Pema­gat­shel in 2016 LG elec­tions but could not make it. She was not only con­test­ing against her for­mi­da­ble male op­po­nents but the en­tire pop­u­la­tion whose sup­port she was seek­ing and their rigid mind­set.

“They al­ways doubt the ca­pa­bil­ity of a woman no mat­ter how qual­i­fied and ca­pa­ble you are,” she says.

But she is not the type to call it quits, not with­out giv­ing a tough fight. “If we’re go­ing to change the mind­set of the peo­ple and cre­ate a plat­form for women in the fu­ture, we can’t be si­lenced. We must keep par­tic­i­pat­ing, ” adds Lhaki Wangmo.

The former Mangmi of Dokar Ge­wog in Paro, Tsheten Zangmo, con­tested for the post of Gup in 2016, but lost to a male con­tes­tant. In a stoic de­fi­ance, she says, she will con­tinue con­test­ing the elec­tions un­til she at­tains the age of 65.

“Peo­ple as­sume that women can never take up the role of Gup. Even if men has no ex­pe­ri­ence and ca­pa­bil­i­ties, they will be elected and peo­ple will sup­port them,” she says.

These women can­di­dates are con­fronted with in­sur­mount­able chal­lenges, most of which have to do with tra­di­tional and often ar­chaic con­cepts of gen­der roles, fur­ther ag­gra­vated by so­cial, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal bar­ri­ers.

BNEW, a net­work­ing plat­form to pro­mote, fa­cil­i­tate and strengthen women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in gov­er­nance, lead­er­ship and de­vel­op­ment in Bhutan, has been try­ing to break the bar­ri­ers and cre­ate equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for women lead­er­ship in the coun­try.

The Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of BNEW, Phuntshok Ch­ho­den, ad­mits women lead­er­ship is still a chal­lenge to be ac­cepted and it has be­come cru­cial for the hand­ful elected women to per­form well.

“For BNEW, it is im­por­tant to firstly work on mo­bi­liz­ing, mo­ti­vat­ing and build­ing ca­pac­ity of greater num­ber of women who will par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tions in or­der for more women to be elected in the next elec­tion,” she says.

This is to in­crease the crit­i­cal mass of women in de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions. And the logic for it is rather sim­ple. “The more role mod­els, the wider the aware­ness and wider the ac­cep­tance that women can do it,” says BNEW Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor.

What makes it dif­fi­cult is that there are no proper leg­is­la­tions and mea­sures to en­cour­age and en­hance women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in elec­tions. Although dis­cus­sions were held on quota for women in the past, it could not gain mo­men­tum fol­low­ing dif­fer­ing views on it, even among women them­selves.

The gap be­tween men and women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions is clearly wide, ev­i­dent from the num­ber of women rep­re­sen­ta­tion in both lo­cal gov­ern­ment and in Par­lia­ment. To­day, there are two fe­male Thromde Ngot­shaps, eight Thromde Tshog­pas, two Gups, 24 Mang­mis and 135 Tshog­pas. At the na­tional level, there are 11 fe­male Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, of which nine are elected. The fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment is 15%, one of the low­est in the world.

“To­day might not be the women’s day in the world of lo­cal gov­ern­ment but they are liv­ing with a hope that one day it will be theirs to show­case their ca­pa­bil­i­ties and po­ten­tial to be a leader to serve their com­mu­nity and peo­ple,” says BNEW Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor. “Till then they are go­ing to come for­ward and keep par­tic­i­pat­ing till their age per­mits ir­re­spec­tive of whether they win or lose.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Bhutan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.