Pema Wangmo never imagined that she would one day become a gup of Dagana. This is because she was not confident. But things changed for Pema Wangmo when she attended a training conducted by the Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW).
“I was not sure what the training was all about. I realised later that maybe I should give a try because BNEW not only taught us how to gain confidence, but also prepared us for fuctional literacy test,” Pema Wangmo said. “I was not interested. I was more worried about test.”
Pema Wangmo was later elected as Dagana gup in the last local government (LG) election. Like Pema, there are many women. Some not only contested in the election, but was also elected. BNEW played an important role in their life by encouraging them to stand for LG positions.
BNEW is a registered CSO that facilitates, supports and strengthens women’s participation and representation in governance and leadership in Bhutan. It facilitates and supports women to advance their leadership in all spheres of society to inspire and encourage, to lead and to be ambitious. The CSO advocates, educates, coaches, supports, and nurture women and girls.
The idea of BNEW, according to the executive director, Phuntshok Tshering, was born at a national consultation workshop of elected women from LG back in the spring of 2012. That was after the conclusion of first parliamentary election in 2008 and first local government election in 2011.
Phuntshok Tshering said that since the introduction of parliamentary democracy in 2008 and elections after that, it was noticed both the parliament and local government did not see representation from women, which is still lacking at the range of 6-13 percent.
“This is the area that our country continues to struggle,” she said. “The lack of confidence in women’s leadership is contrary to all beliefs around Bhutan being one of the most gender egalitarian and liberal societies where women are highly respected and regarded.”
BNEW focuses on awareness, mobilisation, motivation and capacity building, among others. Phuntshok Tshering said that BNEW conducts awareness raising programmes through various means to change societal mindset.
The CSO also organises gender training for election officials and gewog administrative officer to make elections processes gender-aware and gender sensitive.
“We’re in touch with our women in the network using mobile communications and constantly try to reach out to fish for potential candidates to mobilise and motivate many women,” executive director said. “We conducted several rounds of gender and leadership workshops combined with literacy test preparation among many in 20 Dzongkhags before elections. We ontinue to support elected LG women through capacity building in order to deliver and prove the society that women can do it.”
BNEW activities gather women members at gewog, dzongkhag annually or biannually through forums and platforms to meet, interact, learn and share the lessons, experiences to feel empowered, and to make themselves heard. Unlike men, women do not much get opportunities to participate in decision-making. Following three main themes, BNEW helped contribute in its small ways. About 11.4 percent women were elected in the second LG election compared to 6.9 percent in first election.
“We had aspired to achieve 20 percent in second LG election, but it was a challenge for women due to deeply entrenched gender stereotyped mindsets in society,” Phuntshok Tshering said. “The results in some places surprised us when the capable, qualified women lost the election including those who re-contested for various posts.”
However, BNEW’s representation is limited as compared to its representation during LG election to enhance women’s participation since CSO can only play a facilitating role. As per the CSO Act 2007, CSOs cannot involve themselves in the politics. The CSO focuses on organising leadership development, communication, public speaking and panel discussions for the candidates after political parties declare their women candidates.
BNEW has trained about 3,650 women in the various capacity building activities from 181 gewogs in 20 dzongkhags, of which 578 women participated in the second LG election and 171 was elected. The elected were two gups, 24 mangmis, 135 tshogpas, two thromde ngotshabs, and eight thromde tshogpas. Total of 1,025 women passed the literacy test.
“Compared to 2011, the numbers had doubled this time because of the facilitation and training,” Phuntshok Tshering said. “Unfortunately not all the registered went for the actual test because of other external factors that hindered their aspiration to participate”
Phuntshok Tshering said as a secretariat, BNEW collect relevant materials, which the members can access and freely use to enhance their knowledge and skills to connect with networks beyond Bhutan too. “We hope to be able to carry out relevant research and assessments to support our women MPs and to do a great job in the Parliament.”
To get more women inspired to participate and be elected in politics at local government and national levels.
BNEW will work towards facilitating and supporting women to advance their leadership in all spheres of society and create role models for all women to be inspired and encouraged, to lead and be ‘ambitious’. To ignite and open the doors to the ‘top’ for a young generation of women leaders in Bhutan will ask of BNEW as the platform to advocate, educate, coach, mentor, support and nurture women and girls consistently, whilst changing mindsets in society at large.
To awaken a deep sense of responsibility in women and facilitate to get more women to take active part in governance, politics and development. Eventually, BNEW envisages becoming a cutting edge center for democracy, leadership and gender equality education to prepare and support women candidates to participate with the right knowledge, attitude, conviction and confidence.
Providing a networking platform for women’s empowerment and leadership
Building leadership capacity and skills
Coaching, Mentoring and Nurturing support to women
Media relations, advocacy and publicity on women’s empowerment and leadership
Establishment of resource cum service center
With support from Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD)
Yangchen C Rinzin