Breaking the barriers and looking ahead

LG: Shekhar Wangmo always wanted to be local government representative to serve her community.

There were only obstacles in her way, preventing her from accomplishing the dream. She thought she could never gather enough strength and courage to deliver a campaign lecture to a crowd.

Let alone delivering a lecture, she had not even spoken at any village gathering, shunning any attention for fear of being jeered.

When the second local government (LG) elections drew close, all that had changed. She did not care any more of what others would think of her, thanks to some workshops on women empowerment and the dzongkhag election officials’ encouragement.

Moreover, she had come of age. At 25, she passed the minimum age threshold to participate as a candidate in an election.

Her chiwog has only 12 households, a small but closely knit community. The incumbent tshogpa stepped down after completing his term, not standing for a second term.

Shekhar Wangmo was nominated as the lone candidate from the chiwog, Tsheringkha in Khatoed gewog for the post of its tshogpa. “The villagers pledged their complete support and encouraged me to take the opportunity,” she said.

She went on to become the chiwog’s first woman tshogpa and Gasa dzongkhag’s lone LG representative with a landslide victory, despite the eight no votes against her.

Shekhar Wangmo pledged to serve the dual role of a tshogpa and a chupon (messenger).

“I knew being a woman alone would not ensure my victory, so I had to promise something,” she said.

Shekhar Wangmo said that she carries on a proud legacy of the dzongkhag. Gasa dzongkhag produced its first woman LG representative in the 2011 elections in the person of Rimi chiwog tshogpa.

“Of course, there are equally demanding responsibilities at home but I’ll manage given the support of my family,” she said.

Local leaders said women were not interested to participate in elections  as they were not used to it.

“In the future we could have more,” Khatoed gup Thinley Wangdi said.

About 26 women were elected in the second local government elections this year. Tashiding gewog in Dagana elected the first woman gup, Namgay Pelden, in the first LG elections in 2011.

Election Commission of Bhutan records show a large increase in female participation in the functional literacy test this year compared to the last LG elections in 2011. A total of 1,160 took the FLTest this year including in the three thromdes of Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu while 654 women took the FL Test in the first Local Government elections including bye-elections and vacant demkhong elections in 2011.

Tshering Palden

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