Tashi Dema 

Women empowerment is necessary but there is an equal need for women to support women in the country today.

This was a resounding message in the ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world’ summit conducted in Thimphu yesterday.

Bureaucrats, women leaders, international leaders and development partners discussed how Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights and opportunities as men, but gender disparity still exists in the country because of existing cultural bias and stereotyping, which impede women leadership.

The discussion was made against the backdrop that 49 percent of Bhutanese population are women and 39 percent of the civil service are women, but only 14 percent women made it to executive level.  We have even less women leadership in local government with only 0.9 percent as gups.   In Parliament, there are only 15 percent of women representatives.

The officiating director for NCWC, Yeshi Lham, said the main objective of the summit was to celebrate women’s leadership and commemorate their success, as well as to inspire women to assume leadership roles, including in politics.

“More importantly, the summit is aimed at providing a platform for the women leaders, policy makers, media and relevant agencies and individuals to discuss on the issues and challenges related to women’s leadership role and provide policy recommendations to promote women’s leadership and participation in public and political sphere,” she said.

She said a similar summit would be organised twice in five years to take stock of the progress implementation of the declaration and discuss emerging issues and challenges.

UN Resident Coordinator, Gerald Daly, said the summit’s theme celebrated the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and progressing our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic but also highlighted the gaps that remain.

“The inclusion of women in political decision making isn’t just about women’s right to equality and participation in the elective offices; it’s also about using women’s potential, skills and leadership abilities to determine political and development priorities that benefits societies and the country at large and ensures no one is left behind,” he said.

He also commended women, who are at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19, and said some of the most effective and exemplary responses to the pandemic were led by women. “I urge everyone present to empower our women, young and old, to ensure that every woman is valued and recognized as deserving of the opportunity to be as equal as men in every sphere of their lives.”

NCWC chairperson, foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji, emphasised equal representation of women in decision-making position.

He talked about undercurrent prejudices, unspoken burden and traditional responsibilities that inhibit women’s participation in political and public sphere.

He said gender-based violence increased in the last two years, especially during the lockdown.

UNDP’s resident representative, Azusa Kubota, said UNDP released a study on gender social norms index from 75 countries in March last year, which revealed that almost 90 percent of men and women are biased against women.

She also cited a similar study conducted by NCWC after the 2011 LG elections that showed women are seen as less capable than men. “This is accepted by a large majority of women themselves. This low self-esteem is derived from the pervasive belief in society that leadership and politics are purely masculine activity”.

She called for women to support each other. “UN has supported women’s support networks in several countries and also built persona around women leaders.”

The director general for South Asia Initiative to End Violence against children (SAIVAC) or Child Right Coalition (CRC) expert committee, Dr Rinchen Chophyel, called for a need for women and child ministry.

The first executive director for National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), said women’s support was needed for women.

Meanwhile, NCWC and UN organised the summit.

The declaration

  • Adopt and promote gender responsive policies and programmes.
  • Review and mainstream gender into existing legislation, policies, plans and programmes to encourage greater participation of women in political and public sphere.
  • Promote inclusive approach with inclusion of women’s voices, concerns and perspective in any decision making.
  • Enhance women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership.
  • Double up efforts and actions to promote empowerment and advancement of women in all spheres.
  • Take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, and remove all obstacles to gender equality.
  • Generate and disseminate gender disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation.
  • Ensure gender balance in any forums, committees and boards.
  • Ensure implementation of Terma Linca Declaration 2015, Thimphu Declaration 2017 and the National Plan of Action to Promote Gender Equality in Elected Office (NPAPGEEO).
  • Ensure the Implementation of National Gender Equality Policy 2020.
  • Continue to honour and respect international obligations that Bhutan is a party to, CEDAW and Beijing Platform for Action.