The figures are worrying. In just about a year, gender-based violence has increased by 200 cases. In other words, by about 36 percent.

This doesn’t bode well when we are getting honoured for being the most peaceful or happy country in the world. The figures might indicate that we are a country of wife or woman beaters but there is a picture missing. some pictures of reality just do not count.

Gender-based violence is not only among the economically disadvantaged or the illiterate. We know this. Stigma or the embarrassment attached stops many, particularly among the educated and the rich.

Gender-based violence is not a new trend. It is being talked about more and becoming known better because it is now a widely- discussed issue and RENEW’s interventions. RENEW activities and its army of volunteers in the dzongkhags is creating awareness and encouraging women and girls to report incidents.

The increase in incidents this year is attributed to Covid-19 pandemic. Both ways, for a wonder.

During the month-long nationwide lockdown, 345 cases were registered. Many societies experienced a surge in domestic or gender-based violence during the lockdown. It is a global trend. If we subtract the cases triggered by the lockdown, we could have seen a drop in cases. However, we should not take solace in the fact that the rise was triggered by the pandemic. There is more to be done.

To the credit of RENEW and the enthusiasm injected by Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, our women are better aware of this great threat than they ever were. Today RENEW is not new with women, especially rural women. They know violence against women, so far considered a family or private affair, is a crime and has to be reported to authorities.

Her Majesty is urging other civil society organisations working for women and partner agencies to enhance public awareness. We should not leave it alone to RENEW or organisations working with women. It is a social issue and it is a collective responsibility to save our mothers, sisters and daughters.

Most important is not being misguided by the illusion that ours is nothing compared to what is happening in other societies. RENEW is in the middle of a 16-day activism to observe the international day for the elimination of violence against women. We should all join the initiative to eliminate this social ill.

Some of us could also spare time to look into what is causing gender-based violence. The problem is becoming more visible, do we have the capability, appropriate institutions, and specialised responses to deal with such a problem.

What about alcohol, one of the main reasons behind the violence? Alcohol is long recognised as a cause of health and social problems. What have we done? We do not have a policy on alcohol. There is not a single sustained programme to discourage consumption of alcohol while we encourage more breweries and import alcohol even during a pandemic.

As a Buddhist country, we derive most of our wisdom from the Buddha’s teachings. One teaching that is on everyone’s lips is that alcohol is the root cause of all problems. The lord said it. We never heeded to it if we look at the policies or lack of it.

If gender-based violence is a conflict, alcohol is very much at the centre of the conflict. This makes us all bad Buddhist!