Attitude changing, says the archers

Thinley Namgay 

Despite being discouraged by superstition beliefs, and even occasional sarcastic remarks from their male counterparts, a growing number, although small,  of women archers are shooting shoulder to shoulder with men challenging the perception surrounding, as well as on the skill in hitting the target.  

Archery may no longer be considered a male dominated, or a male-centric game in Bhutan. Besides recurve women archers at the Bhutan Archery Federation (BAF), there were about 10 women using the imported compound bows in the country who had been competing, on an equal footing, with men in friendly matches and tournaments.

These women archers developed their passion for archery through sheer interest and also to encourage other aspiring women. “We wanted to give the impression to the younger generation that men and women were equal in all walks of life,” said a woman archer. “Women’s representation in sports and in politics in Bhutan was negligible and our  participation in archery was expected to set an example.” 

Pema, 29, from Wangdue, began her compound archery journey in May last year. Since then, she had been an active archer, participating in various matches among men. Currently, Pema, also known as KP is a popular  archer on TikTok, where she shares her archery skills during practice sessions and matches.

Her dream was to play in the popular Shagi Choda (archery competition played in Wangdue) in her village. 

During the Shagi Choda, men wore patang (ceremonial swords) while Pema dreamt of wearing Gyentag (insignia equivalent to patang) and playing among other archers in the village. 

“As a women archer, male archers don’t include us especially in choda,” Pema said.

Women archers said that they are able to play archery today with the steady support of their families, parents, and relatives.

Tandin Pem from Thimphu started playing archery during the Covid-19 lockdown. She believed it was important to engage in friendly matches before any tournaments to gain more experience.

Tandin said one of her accomplishments in archery could be the tournament in Paro last year where a team of five women players entered the semifinals surpassing more than 50 other teams. She also hopes to play choda one day. “I have featured in the tournament thrice so far,” Tandin said.

Sherab Zam, 41, from Dagana, had been playing recurve archery at BAF since 2005, and started playing compound archery in 2018. For Sherab, archery was also a means to engage in quality work instead of wasting time.

She said it was essential for women to come forward and play archery. “Some women are not confident.”

The challenges for women archers are not only on the range. “Some people still say that floods and landslides might occur if women play archery and Khuru,” an archer said. 

Some male archers also teased and commented negatively at women archers at the archery range.

However, women archers don’t deny the fact that people were changing their perception and appreciating women playing archery. 

All the women archers are willing to support aspiring women archers.