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Kuensel reporters 

Unlike in the past two elections, more women have stood to contest in the third local government election according to reports from the dzongkhags.

However, according to the trend observed in recent dhamngoi zomdus in the dzongkhags, there are more aspiring women candidates for the posts of mangmi and tshogpa than that of the gup.

The number of women candidates vying for local government (LG) leader positions have seen a drastic increase in Tsirang compared to the last LG election.

Former Tashipang tshogpa in Mendrelgang, Ugyen Wangmo, is recontesting for the same post this election. She is competing against a male aspirant from the same chiwog.

She said that compared to only two women vying for the tshogpa post in 2016, there are nine women aspiring candidates from the Mendrelgang gewog this election.

“Before I participated in LG, I was unaware about development plans in the gewog. With the experience, I am more confident and empowered,” she said.

She said that compared to male counterparts, the public is forthcoming in sharing their challenges with women LG leaders.

There are two aspiring women candidates vying for mangmi post in Kilkhorthang gewog while a woman mangmi candidate from Kherithang chiwog in Doonglagang gewog was eliminated in the dhamngoi zomdu. There were no women candidates from the gewog in 2016.

Another woman mangmi candidate from Dzamlingzor chiwog in Mendrelgang lost to her male opponent by a single vote. She secured 48 votes.

In Tsholingkhar gewog, there are two women tshogpa aspiring candidates.

An aspiring gup candidate Sangay Choden from Pangserpo chiwog in Drujeygang, Dagana, said that just days ago, she nearly dropped out her candidature since her elder brother was also competing for the same position.

Her supporters, however, encouraged her to continue. She is competing against three men in her chiwog.

She said that although she was eliminated from the dhamgoi zomdu in 2016, she wants to take up the opportunity once again. “Women are equally capable and are determined and dedicated to their jobs. There are fewer corruption cases among women leaders and we are punctual.”

Neem Lhamo Moktan, 28, could be the first woman gup candidate participating in the LG election from Barshong gewog. She said that there were supporters as well as people who discouraged her from declaring her interest in the LG election.

Some people, she said discouraged her since she would have better employment opportunities with her master’s degree in other sectors.

“LG works closely with people at the grassroots level. I want to set an example for other women who would be interested in taking up the opportunities we have,” she added.

Meanwhile, the two former female gups of Geserling and Tashiding gewogs in Dagana are recontesting.

Similar to Tsirang, more women candidates are taking part in LG elections in Paro and Haa and also mostly for the post of tshogpa.

However, only three women are competing for the gup’s post in Dokar, Sharpa and Wangchang gewogs from Paro similar to the 2016 LG elections.

According to Paro election office, two gups and a mangmi were nominated through the dhamngoi zomdu.

Former Hungrel mangmi, Sherab Lham, contesting for gup’s post this election, said that women representation in LG was increasing gradually, but many got voted-out from the dhamngoi zomdus.

She said that compared to only one woman vying for a mangmi post in 2008, there were five aspiring candidates, including a tshogpa candidate from Lungyni gewog in 2016. She said that there were three women nominated for the post of tshogpa from Bonday chiwog.

Although many women are interested in participating in gup’s post, she said many were not elected. “Such trends should not deter women from participating. It’s essential to participate and complete the race without gender discrimination more than winning the election.”

“After being in LG for two terms, I am aware of development plans in the gewog,” she said.

After serving as mangmi for 10 years, she said it was time for her to step up to encourage more women to participate in such elections.

“Time has changed, and it is time to change the mindset of the people.”

As of today, Haa has no women candidate for gup’s post from the dhamngoi zomdu. Two women candidates, one each for the post of gup and mangmi from Samar gewog were outvoted during the dhamngoi zomdu.

Three aspiring women candidates are vying for a mangmi post in Katsho gewog, but a woman mangmi candidate from Kajina chiwog was eliminated in the dhamngoi zomdu.

For the two aspiring women candidates vying for the post of mangmi and gup from Jigmecholing and Gelephu gewog, it was more about breaking the stereotypical barriers.

Of more than 20 candidates nominated for gup and mangmi from dhamngoi zomdu in Sarpang to date, only three women were successful in securing their nominations.

Challenges 

Many women candidates that the same challenges continue for them. They said that many still think the role of women was to take care of children and stay by the hearth.

“Some think that we are not competent. There is no encouragement. That’s how we are left behind,” a candidate said.

They said that society needs to work together and include more women in decision making for better change.

“So far all decisions were made by men at local government level and it’s time men and women work together for better outputs. We need to have women taking the leadership roles too,” an aspiring candidate said.

A woman in Gelephu said that there were many qualified women in the gewog but lacked the confidence to take part in the election. “There are few women taking part in the election. We have many qualified women staying idle at home,” she said.

Observers said that the trend of more women contesting for lower positions is natural. “We have a long tradition of having men as gups. Things will not change overnight, of course. Our women will continue to face such challenges but earnest efforts will have to be made to bring more women on board,” an observer said.

A study by the Election Commission of Bhutan revealed that educating women was the best form to enhance women participation.

“In the last two elections, we had more women voters than men. It is surprising why women were not supporting women,” another observer said. 

Women representation in politics also remains poor in terms of candidates. Of the 188 people who represented the 47 constituencies from four political parties in the primary election for the National Assembly, only 19 are women, taking the women candidate percentage to 10.1 percent.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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