Bhutan observed the World Population Day on July 11

Event: Although Bhutan has made commendable progress for the wellbeing of teenage girls, challenges remain.

As the country joined the global community to observe World Population Day on July 11 themed “Investing in teenage girls,” the event also reminded policy makers and the agencies concerned that Bhutan cannot afford to remain complacent.

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck,  President of RENEW and UNFPA’s Goodwill Ambassador, graced the occasion as the guest of honour.

Speaking at the event, UNFPA’s assistant resident representative, Yeshey Dorji, said that there is evidence of adolescent fertility, rising sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies, and emerging suicides among young people, particularly among adolescent girls.

“Comprehensive knowledge on HIV prevention is as low as 23 percent among young people and adolescents,” he said.

Yeshey Dorji said that this represents the need for the right kinds of public policies to ensure that everyone has freedom and access to information and services they need to make good choices.

As is the trend in many countries, Bhutanese girls upon attaining puberty are deemed ready for marriage, pregnancy and childbirth. Early marriage leads to early pregnancy and effectively closes the door to education and other opportunities for a better life.

“When a girl becomes pregnant, her present and future changes radically, and rarely for the better,” he said. “Her education may end, her job prospects evaporate, and her vulnerabilities to poverty, exclusion and dependency multiply.”

Such challenges and obstacles faced by a teenage girl is further expected to multiply if she is a member of an ethnic minority, lives in a village or is from a poor household.

According to Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) gender equality is a pressing issue yet to be resolved besides several global issues while discrimination and abuse of women and girls is still rampant and widespread.

Therefore, to ensure attention towards the poor plight of women and girls across nations, the theme this year has been adopted as “investing in teenage girls”. Though every girl has the right to transition into adulthood with safe, equal and right opportunities, yet many across the world are deprived. Their rights are compromised at every front. Issues such as early marriages, teenage pregnancies, deaths arising due to early motherhood and deprivations of school and wellbeing prospects continue to restrict girls, a press release from RENEW stated.

According to RENEW, the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an unprecedented opportunity for teenage girls to claim their rights, realise their aspirations and transform the world. The success of the new sustainable development agenda depends on how well teenage girls are supported.

The two-day programme to observe World Population Day had youth group Y-peer coming together to discuss issues related to teenage girls, following which a youth programme led by RENEW youth volunteers DAISAN (Druk Adolescents’ Initiative for Sexual Awareness Network) showcased a special drama series titled “I”.

RENEW also launched Yeshey Dawa, an animated character to raise awareness on women and child rights in the country, and a drawing book for children.

Education minister Norbu Wangchuk reaffirmed the government’s commitment for the wellbeing of women and teenage girls.

Lyonpo also highlighted some of the challenges. He said that an educated and a healthy teenage girl upon attaining womanhood should also have an unrestrained environment to use her talents and live a life of her choosing.

Highlighting the existing gaps in the areas of employment and public positions, Lyonpo said that currently only 34.7 percent of civil servants are women and only 20 out of 241 are at the executive level are women, which is a dismal 0.08 percent. Of the 72 parliament members, six are women of which two are eminent members. Bhutan has only one female gup in 205 gewogs and two women dzongdags in 20 dzongkhags.

“Achieving the existing gender gap is a collective calling, not just for the government or civil society organisations, but also for every member of the society – men and women,” Lyonpo said.

Meanwhile, RENEW in collaboration with the departments of youth and sports, school education of the education ministry and the Thimphu Thromde education office with financial support from UNFPA, IPPF SARO and EC organised World Population Day.

Kinga Dema