Event: To observe International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck graced the inaugural of a two-day national symposium in Thimphu, yesterday.

Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women’s (RENEW) executive director Tandin Wangmo said that violence against women continues to be a global epidemic.

Globally, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, most often in the hands of someone they know, love and trust. “This happens in Bhutan too,” Tandin Wangmo said. “Let us acknowledge this dreadful fact today and also the fact that it is preventable.”

Physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuses are some of the violent acts committed against women and girls.

Tandin Wangmo said that ending physical and sexual violence requires long-term commitment and strategies involving all parts of society, while community based strategies can focus on empowering women, reaching out to men, and changing the beliefs and attitudes that permit abusive behaviour.

RENEW in collaboration with key stakeholders, organised the national symposium themed, ‘The Bhutanese Pledge: A shared commitment towards eliminating gender based violence in Bhutan,’ to bring together stakeholders and have a better understanding of how they can work together towards a common vision of a happier society.

The symposium is also aimed at identifying strengths and gaps between policies and services in combating domestic violence in the country.

“This will not only enable us to make relevant recommendations but also prepare ourselves better in providing efficient services to our community,” Tandin Wangmo said.

The Australian Ambassador to Bhutan Harinder Sidhu said that violence against women is a significant human rights violation. It has a profound and devastating impact on its victims in communities and in society as a whole.

“Eliminating violence against women everywhere is a priority for the Australian government,” the ambassador said. “The Australian government looks forward in extending its collaboration with Bhutan in this work.”

Women and girls cannot achieve their potential when they live with violence or they fear violence, the ambassador said. “We can’t harness the potential, the energy, the creativity and the inspiration of half of our population if they don’t feel safe in the first place.”

The ambassador said that ending violence against women is a huge challenge but it can be addressed by providing support to those who have been subject to violence and taking a stand against the attitudes and behavior that allow violence against women and children to occur.

National Commission for Women and Children’s (NCWC) director Kunzang Lhamu said that while considered a country where women enjoy relative freedom and equality in many spheres of life, the Bhutanese woman is not without her share of problems.

The status of women in Bhutan is influenced by socio-cultural perceptions that generally hold women less confident, capable and strong and sexually more vulnerable than men.  This has influenced access to education, employment and public decision-making and presented a greater challenge.

Kunzang Lhamu said that the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) is integral in Bhutan’s growth process. In practice, GNH strives to create an environment wherein every man, woman and child is included and benefits from development and growth.

Every policy in Bhutan requires to be screened using the GNH policy-screening tool that has gender equality as one of the parameters in rating a policy. “This has reduced gender blind policies and led to the development of number of policies that are gender sensitive and responsive.”

Kunzang Lhamu said that eliminating violence against women requires the support and efforts of stakeholders across all levels of society in rooting out this evil from our society.

The NCWC will draft a Gender Equality Policy to provide policy directives for promoting gender equality and improving coordination and accountability.

Some of the future interventions include a nationwide study on the prevalence of Violence Against Women in 2017, development of a Central Information Management System to house all information on protection issues related to women and children.  Establishment of a toll free helpline and dzongkhag women and children committees and appointment of protection officers are some more initiatives in the pipeline.

A comprehensive drama module, ‘3Is-transformation through theater,’ and a report on State of World Population, 2016 was also launched during the inaugural session.

The drama module is designed especially for youth volunteers, DAISAN (Druk Adolescent’s Initiative on Sexual Awareness Network) with various youth related issues.

A special programme, ‘Yours Truly, Bum Jarim,’ a monologue with true stories of seven Bhutanese women, was also presented to more than 100 participants at the inaugural session yesterday.

Dechen Tshomo