Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. The day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and is also an annual call to accelerate efforts towards achieving gender parity.

Bhutan has been observing International Women’s Day since 2005 and this year’s theme is Women in the changing world of work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.

Ensuring gender parity has improved dramatically since the 1970s when the girl to boy student ratio was 50:1. Today, girls outnumber boys in the schools.

With education, girls and women in Bhutan have been able to cross traditional boundaries and achieve success in domains once thought fit only for men.

Today, we have a woman minister, women dzongdags, local leaders, civil servants at decision-making levels, cops, pilots, taxi drivers, engineers, vehicle mechanics, carpenters, and plumbers, among others.

Despite the progress, gender bias is still present. For instance, in the first local government elections, the gender of the candidate did determine votes, with women voters themselves preferring men candidates. There still exists a belief that men make better leaders. However, with more awareness campaigns, the situation has improved as evident in the second LG elections, in which more women stood as candidates, and more women leaders were elected.

Clearly, there is a need to have more women at the decision-making levels so that the quality of decisions are improved and is more reflective of society.

However, this parity must not be achieved through the introduction of quotas. It may take long, but achieving gender parity through education, awareness, and based on meritocracy, is the safer and more sustainable approach. There is also a need to make working conditions conducive to women, for instance by enabling more friendly maternity leave and space for day-care centres in work places.

Change must also begin at home.

It is our responsibility as parents to ensure we are aware of the identities created by the media: pink is a colour for girls, while blue is for boys, or that a woman should look a certain way.

It is important that we educate ourselves and our children that when it comes to life and its opportunities, gender must play no role.