We join the international community in observing the International Women’s Day today calling for equity once again. Every year the Day gets the attention of the world in raising concerns of discrimination, injustice or inequality against women.

At home, we take part and dedicate time and effort to make the day meaningful by bringing issues to the fore. And like every year, many Bhutanese believe that Bhutan is far better than many nations when it comes to gender equality. In fact, Bhutanese men often claim that women have more say, even rights, than men in our society.

There is some tinge of truth in it. Our women are largely free from outright discrimination. In some cultures within the country, women inherit the family property and men have to go out looking for their own fortunes.  Many are convinced that women in Bhutan enjoy equal rights.

But there are issues. And as we observe the day it is a good time to reflect on those issues for greater equality. The environment for equal opportunity is not missing. Our policies are not discriminatory and therefore our women have the equal rights to avail the opportunities whether it is free schooling or competing for government jobs.

But some problems still linger. We may not be hearing stories of night hunting anymore, but we are hearing that only women and the old are left in the villages as men leave for better jobs in the towns. Schools have reached villages, but more girls are dropping out of schools than boys.

Job opportunitiesmaybe the same but unemployment, especially youth unemployment is highest among female.  Fewer females are employed than men because the level of education among female job seekers is comparatively lower. Even at same levels of education, more males are employed than female.

The absence of more women in public positions and higher rungs of the civil service is already discussed as a concern. There is still a wrong notion that women are less capable than men in making decisions and therefore shouldn’t be elected to political positions. Even at the local governance level, the participation is ‘salt in the curry” like Bhutanese would say.

In the meantime, courts are overwhelmed with divorce cases, domestic violence in many forms still remains an issue and new problems related to unemployment, like underground prostitution are increasing.

As we observe the Day with a campaign theme: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”, it is an opportune time to reflect on our shortcomings. The issues linger, perhaps because our policies when put on ground are faced with unseen challenges.

The problems were long recognized. We have a Royal Decree emphasizing on women’s participation at all levels of government and society calling for gender-neutral participation based on merit and achievement. It is almost two decades since the Decree was passed, high time, if not too late, to look for viable solutions.