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At a time when we are talking about whether we should allot quotas to encourage women to join politics and vie for positions in the local governments, we are witnessing a welcome development in some quarters of the country. The signs are encouraging.

The dzongkhag election office in Samdrupjongkhar yesterday saw 188 candidates register for the functional literacy test, which is an essential requirement for anyone who wishes to stand for positions of responsibility in the local government. Of the 188 registered candidates, 62 were women.

Allotting quota for women became an issue in the Parliament and it was widely debated. We have yet not arrived at a point in the debate where we are clear about whether we should have reserved quotas for women. The debate will continue because a large section of women find reserving quotas for the female lot largely demeaning and deeply patronising.

There are ways to encourage women to participate in positions of responsibility. Allotting quotas is not one. Allotting quotas for women might help achieve some narrow and short-term gains. But it is important that we look at the greater, wider and long-term achievement of our society.

Change doesn’t come overnight; we must create right environment if change must take place. It takes effort and time.

The majority of women who registered for the functional literacy test are aiming to fill the small local government positions. And that’s all right. They see things from a better vantage point. For them, it is the experience that is important, which will allow them to serve their community better. They mean not only to stay, but more importantly, to contribute to the society far into the future.

This is the true testimony to what can be achieved through awareness programmes about women participation in politics and positions of responsibility.  Nongovernmental organisations and Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) have done a commendable job. That’s the way, the right way, to go. Come next election, there is every reason to hope that there will be greater women participation.

We already have fair number of women in the positions of power. This is encouraging our young women to climb up the ladder and take greater responsibilities of shaping our society and making of our nation. In the rural pockets of the country, non-formal education is playing its part in empowering our women. These are all positive signs.

What we must now focus on is how better to encourage our women to step forward. Perspectives are important; the more varied we have, the better.

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