Records show a large increase in female participation in FLT this year
LG: If the number of women who sat for the Functional Literary Test (FLT) this year is any indication, there could be more women candidates contesting in the upcoming Local Government (LG) elections.
Records with Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) show a large increase in female participation in the FLT this year compared to the last LG elections in 2011. A total of 1,160 took the FLT this year including the three thromdes of Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu while 654 women took the FLT in the first LG including bye-elections and vacant demkhong elections in 2011.
Among the dzongkhags, Mongar had the highest number of females who sat for the FLT at 117 during the two rounds of FLT this year. Gasa had the least number of females who sat for the FLT with just five.
ECB officials said that women participation in the LG elections is equally important as it is for men.
According to ECB, needs of men and women are not the same and they have different roles to play in society besides the fact that women make up half of the population, it is important that the number of women representatives also reflect this.
“Women’s direct representation in decision-making at the grass root level as well as the national level is equally vital,” the commission’s media spokesperson said.
Bhutan has only one female gup in 205 gewogs and two women dzongdags in 20 dzongkhags. Of the 72 parliament members today, six are women of which two are eminent members.
Similarly, only 34.7 percent of civil servants are women and only 20 out of 241 at the executive level are women, which is a dismal 0.08 percent.
Given the low representation of females in the elective offices, introducing a quota for women was also proposed to be included in the Election Act in 2014. However, Parliament shot down the amendment of the Act itself.
The government, during the elections, had also pledged to look into possibilities of introducing a quota for women in Parliament and LG
The 2013 elections recorded a drop in women representation to 6.9 percent from 13.9 percent in 2008. Even in the first LG elections, of more than 1,000 seats for various posts, 165 women contested, but less than half were elected, including the lone female gup.
The western dzongkhag of Paro has one of the highest numbers of females in the LG today with about 13 tshogpas and three mangmis. The mangmis and most tshogpas will be re-contesting the upcoming elections.
Wangcha gewog’s mangmi, Phub Dem, 37, is now contesting for the gup’s post against several male candidates.
Phub Dem attributes her decision to the people’s support and wishes having served the past five years as a mangmi. “Initially, when I joined office as the mangmi, there were some issues, which I feel is prominent to all female representatives as such posts are viewed suitable for males,” she said. “But gradually people tend to accept.”
Female local leaders said that female participation is equally important to represent women who are more comfortable approaching women leaders in dealing with issues related to women, among others.
Lungnyi gewog’s mangmi, Tshering, 31, who is re-contesting for the same post, said so long as a person is capable, gender doesn’t make much of a difference anymore, unlike in the past.
“I don’t know how things are in other places but it’s better in Paro with more educated people when it comes to support for females,” she said, confident of winning another term.
Hoongrel gewog’s mangmi, Gyem Thinley, also said that if capable, people vote irrespective of one’s gender. “Things are changing with development and with more women participation, voters should also vote accordingly,” he said.
All four chiwogs in Hoongrel are represented by female tshogpas who will be re-contesting the upcoming elections against male candidates. As a tshogpa requires to do a lot of running around, men were seen as more suitable for the post in the past.
Paro’s dzongkhag tshogdu chairman, Gup Phub Tshering said that women representation in the decision-making level at the LG was low currently with just two gups, and two percent of the mangmis and about five percent of tshogpas being women.
In Paro, three out of 10 mangmis and about 20 percent of tshogpas are women, he said. “Comparatively, Paro has a much higher women representation at the LG,” he said. “So we need to ask why does Paro have higher women representation against less women participation in the 2011 LG election.”
He attributed lack of support to female candidates for reasons such as posts of gups, mangmis and tshogpas being viewed as men’s posts besides strong traditional beliefs that men are nine eons ahead of women, making them superior.
On why Paro had more women representation, Gup Phub Tshering said that Parops, for centuries, have been known for being proud. “Given such factor, we are more confident and hold high self-esteem,” he said. “Women leaders in Paro have higher qualifications in modern education than their male counterparts.”
Meanwhile, a 2014 ECB study titled, “Determinants of voter’s choice and women’s participation in elective offices” found that the gender of a candidate is not the subject of contention for a majority of voters.
Despite various obstacles that restrict women participation in the electoral processes, a majority of voters are likely to support women in future elections, as they feel there should be more women representatives in elective offices.
With more females availing education and enhanced access to socio-economic opportunities in future, majority of the survey respondents believed that female participation in electoral process would increase accordingly.
The study stated that women are more likely to vote for women but the decision to do so would be based on factors such as qualification with necessary experience followed by leadership skills and qualities, among others.