When an­cient cus­toms come in be­tween

Business Bhutan - - Front Page - Dechen Dolkar from Thim­phu

Women can­di­dates con­test­ing Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment (LG) elec­tions es­pe­cially in some gewogs in Thim­phu and Pu­nakha have to fight a dif­fer­ent bat­tle al­to­gether – one posed by pre­vail­ing stereo­type and tra­di­tional be­liefs that only men can take up the post.

Gups from the three gewogs of Thim­phu (Chang, Kawang and Me­wang) and five gewogs of Pu­nakha (Toe­bisa, Barp, Shen­gana, Kab­jisa and Toed­wang) have been so far per­form­ing the role of Pazap dur­ing the an­nual Pu­nakha Drom­choe.

The role of Pazap is mostly

per­formed by a man; wear­ing a red pazap gho, khamar kab­ney, iron hel­met, tshoglam and patang.

And this tra­di­tional role of the male gup has been con­ve­niently used to dis­cour­age women from tak­ing part in LG elec­tions.

Women can­di­dates who have tried to chal­lenge this sta­tus quo have faced tremen­dous chal­lenges. Let alone gar­ner­ing sup­port, they were even dis­cour­aged to con­test the elec­tion in the first place.

Dur­ing the 2016 LG elec­tions, two women con­tested for the post of gup for Chang Gewog in Thim­phu, com­pet­ing with two other male con­tes­tants. The fe­male can­di­dates re­ceived the least votes.

Karma Zangmo, 43, who con­tested for the post of Chang Gup, said though there are ca­pa­ble women, they are not freely al­lowed to con­test.

“The Pazap role can be re­placed with male mem­bers and it is not com­pul­sory for the women gup elect to per­form it,” she said. “The society be­lieves that it is only the male who should per­form the role of Pazap dur­ing the Drom­choe.”

De­spite such stereo­typ­i­cal be­liefs, Karma Zangmo is de­ter­mined to con­test in the next LG elec­tions.

An­other women con­tes­tant, Choki, 49, from Me­wang Gewog, said she couldn’t get elected for the post of Gup be­cause peo­ple felt that a woman couldn’t com­pete with a man. “My fa­ther was also a Gup and he was re­placed by some­one to per­form the Pazap since he couldn’t ride a horse,” she said.

Mean­while, the Mangmi of Chang gewog, Sonam Lhamo, said that she had asked her hus­band to per­form the role of Pazap as she was an of­fi­ci­at­ing Gup.

“Women can per­form the role of the Pazap but the thing is that a woman can’t en­ter into the Gyenkhang dur­ing the Drom­choe,” she added.

The Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Bhutan Net­work for Em­pow­er­ing Women (BNEW), Phuntshok Ch­ho­den, said that they make ef­forts to change and trans­form this mind­set and at­ti­tude and so­cio­cul­tural prac­tices in the society through var­i­ous means such as ad­vo­cacy and aware­ness through the me­dia.

She said they also get pro­gres­sive views and opin­ions from lo­cal opin­ion mak­ers or re­li­gious lead­ers or peo­ple who are re­spected and lis­tened to in the com­mu­nity.

“That’s what we did in 2016, close to the 2nd Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Elec­tions, when the is­sue was flagged by our women es­pe­cially in few Gewogs of Thim­phu and Pu­nakha - those Gups must par­tic­i­pate in the Puna Dom­choe,” the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor said.

She said when it comes to break­ing so­cial and gen­der stereo­types that are deeply en­trenched and widely ac­cepted and preva­lent as the norms in society, BNEW can­not break them overnight. “How­ever, we are hope­ful that with time sooner than later, ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness, our ef­forts will have an im­pact and change them slowly and steadily towawrds more gen­der equal­ity since Bhutan is well known as a highly gen­der egal­i­tar­ian society where women and girls are val­ued and en­joy good sta­tus,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to her, cul­tural prac­tices such as these con­tra­dict and in­sult the very pos­i­tive im­age of Bhutan as a GNH na­tion too.

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