When Dendup Dema contested for Shongphu gewog’s mangmi position in Trashigang in 2011, she lost to her opponent by a single vote.

In the 2016 local government (LG) elections, she re-contested and won. She had two male opponents then.

She said that people in her community supported her during the last election and there is no gender bias. “My husband encouraged me to participate, saying we would share the household work.”

Dendup’s story is, however, one of the few success stories shared of 183 women who had gathered at a three-day Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Thimphu.

Many shared stories of discrimination, lack of family support, gender inequality and lack of trust for female candidates.

Women, elected and non-elected, from across the country gathered at the AGM.

A former tshogpa from Paro, Sangay Lham, who contested for a gup’s position in 2016 election, said people are reluctant to vote for women. “People in my village encouraged me to contest for the gup’s post but people from other villagers did not vote for me.”

The participants stated that to pave the way forward, elected women should be counselled to be role models in the society, which would encourage people to vote for women. They suggested BNEW to continue its advocacy programmes in rural areas.

BNEW’s executive director, Phuntshok Chhoden, said BNEW has focused on building the capacity of women in local government and on keeping potential candidates prepared to participate in the third LG elections.

“We need to work on the third parliamentary elections,” she said. “A competition was also held to develop advocacy materials to raise awareness in the third parliamentary elections to promote women in leadership.”

BNEW last conducted the AGM in 2015 with more than 300 women participants. The three-day AGM ended on December 23. The meeting also advocated the participants on the use of social media, public speaking and body language.

Phurpa Lhamo