Change is on the horizon for two renowned festivals in eastern Bhutan – Gomphu and Namgang Kora in Trashigang and Yangtse. These festivals, renowned for their sacredness and distinctiveness, have traditionally been associated with nocturnal activities. While these nighttime events are thrilling for some, they have posed challenges for many.

Hidden beneath entrenched social and cultural norms, the acceptance, if not encouragement, of such nocturnal activities has persisted. However, amidst this backdrop, young girls often find themselves exploited and grappling with numerous social challenges.

If this culture of exploiting women under the guise of tradition and darkness is indeed evolving, it represents a welcome and positive development. 

While there may be a certain level of social acceptance for courting women or even coercing them into sexual intercourse under the pretext of culture, there exists a troubling undercurrent within this acceptance. Frequently, when such instances are reported, the distinction between consensual courtship and assault becomes blurred.

Amidst these concerns, there is cause for optimism. Change is underway, facilitated by a surge in awareness and education that has reached even the most remote rural communities.

Health officials, mindful of the risks associated with unprotected encounters, have taken proactive steps in the past. They have distributed condoms during festivals to curb the spread of sexually transmitted infections and prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Equally noteworthy is the shift in perception among rural women who are vulnerable to advances from men visiting villages. Instances of mistreatment towards rural women by travelling businessmen, truckers, and civil servants have significantly decreased.

What was once shared with a hint of pride now carries the risk of repercussions, highlighting the changing attitudes and evolving social norms.

Our festivals hold a unique charm, but it is our responsibility to fully embrace these changes. They signify progress. We can revel in the festivities and honour our cultural heritage without resorting to harassment of women. Instead, we must respect their rights and choices.