Discussions surrounding women’s participation in politics is back again. Fortunately this time around, the discourse is not about reserving seats for them or providing quotas. The focus is on systematic education to change the mind-set.

There is no doubt that women’s representation in the Parliament has to be improved. The logic is simple. Women understand women issues better and they will represent the women folk when policies and decisions are made in the highest law making body. This applies to governance at the local level too.

Reserving seats for women was not the best option. It was contested by women themselves at several forums. They felt that it was more discriminating than women not winning seats. The election Act doesn’t discriminate or is biased against women. We may have a very few women in the Parliament, but that doesn’t mean women are incompetent to be leaders.

The shift in focus is good. Generally, women in Bhutan have a tendency to step back. There is a feeling that as the weaker sex, they should allow their husband or the men to stand forward even if it is representing the village. This is so common in our rural areas. We do not discriminate women. They are given equal political rights, but this understanding had not helped our women come forward and take the lead.

What we need is education and strategies to encourage women to participate as candidates both at the local and government levels. While we respect the choice of the women to not represent or contest, there could be reasons besides the days required to campaign, sometimes walking for days in villages, or the family discouraging them from leaving their secure jobs.

Political parties could, on their own choose to reserve some seats for women. This could appeal to the voters, but the choice should be left to the women. We don’t want a situation where a woman candidate is embarrassed because she is contesting through a quota and her opponent by choice.

They could incorporate gender issues in political agenda that could attract the attention of potential woman candidates. They would want to participate in political processes that would affect them, their families and their societies.

The election commission’s study reveals that educating women was the best form to enhance women participation. How we do that needs priority if we are concerned about women’s representation in politics or at local governance. In the last two elections we had more women voters than men. It is surprising why women were not supporting women.

There is severe lack of understanding or mistrust. If education, mentoring and awareness could change this we have to invest in educating women. There are instances where skill building and leadership training has improved women participation.