LG: Going by the number of women Bumthaps voted for in the recent local government election, it is evident that people in the dzongkhag still prefer to have men as leaders.

The dzongkhag has 9,218 registered voters of which 4,928 are women. But on  poll day, only two of the 10 aspiring women local leaders got elected. The number of women participants was also negligible.

There were 10 women candidates (nine tshogpa and one mangmi) contesting against 41 male candidates (14 mangmi and 27 tshogpa candidates).

Bumthang is one of the most advanced dzongkhags in terms of infrastructure development, and political activeness and awareness. But feedback from Bumthang residents indicate that women still have a long way to go before they will be accepted as equals when it comes to leadership.

A village elder in Chumey, Choden, 77, said she voted for the woman tshogpa in her chiwog but many men were against the idea reasoning that a woman candidate will not be as good as a man.

The perception is that women cannot be good leaders. “In my family, all male members were of the view that the female candidate will not be able to represent us well,” she said. “The female tshogpa candidate is capable but she lost because she received less postal ballots.”

Dorji, 35, from Tang said of the four people contesting for mangmi, one was a woman. “She was the former mangmi but I voted for a male candidate to see the difference,” he said.

Another Tang resident said he voted for a male candidate because women local leaders are not as good as men.

In Choekhor, Tashi, 36, appeared for the functional literacy test and secured good marks but did not contest because she realised people were not willing to support female candidates even if they are capable.

For the female candidates themselves, breaking the mental barrier that men are more capable and contesting against male candidates, they claim, is a difficult task.

Jampel, 39, from Jambay Lhakhang contested for the post of tshogpa and her opponent was an elderly man. She lost by 20 votes.

The mother of four, who studied till class nine, attributes her loss to the traditional idea that men are more capable than women. “I have set my pledges based on the real needs of villagers but I lost,” she said. “I would have won if all people here believed women are equally capable.”

Damcho, 39, from Gyaltsa competed against the former Gyaltsa tshogpa’s son. She lost by 65 votes. She said people were more concerned with the gender of a candidate rather than their capabilities. “I participated in many women empowerment trainings and I know I can represent the people well,” she said. “If only people would accept that women can do as good as men.”

The lone woman mangmi candidate in the dzongkhang, Dechen Zangmo, 30, is from Tang. She, however, attributes her loss to party politics in the locality. Of the four mangmi candidates in the gewog, she secured the least votes.

Whatever the reasons, the election results may discourage more women from participating in future elections in the dzongkhag.

Many female candidates say women in their locality do not contest in elections because of family obligations and lack of self confidence. “With the Constitution providing local leaders significant powers to implement plans for socio-economic development, it is a must that women should participate in local government,” Jampel said. “But without any support, it will be difficult for women to pave our way and become local leaders.”

Women participants say it is unfortunate that people do not realise the potential of women and the changes they could bring to local governments.

Tashi Dema