… following Cabinet’s rejection of proposal that included introducing a quota

The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) will review part A of the National Plan of Action of Promotion of Gender Equality in Elected Offices following the Cabinet’s rejection to introduce a quota, it was pointed out at the conclusion of the 2nd national conference on women in governance, leadership and politics in Thimphu, yesterday.

NCWC’s director Kunzang Lhamu said they formulated two parts of the national plan through various consultations with stakeholders and it was formally submitted to the Cabinet for approval in 2015, a year after NCWC held several rounds of consultation with stakeholders.

She said that part A includes the introduction of a quota for women in all elected offices and nomination of candidates.

NCWC’s senior programme officer, Sonam Penjor, said that part A identifies and suggests possible entry points in the current electoral system that will ensure representation of women at the nomination level, thereby increasing the scope of women to be elected.

He said that as for the consultation, the best way forward for part A is to ensure the nomination of a minimum 33 percent female candidature by each political party for both primary and general elections of the National Assembly.

It was pointed out that 33 percent is the internationally accepted representation of women required to ensure responsive discourses and resolutions.

“Our intention is not to reserve seats for women but to diversify the choice for voters by ensuring that there is a female and a male candidate,” Sonam Penjor said. “The political parties could actually do this voluntarily. But then, we might not meet the set target.”

The section also states that the government shall ensure all necessary support or services are provided for the contesting female candidates in the general elections. “However, it comes with a condition that the 33 percent criteria should be incorporated in the Election Act,” Sonam Penjor said.

As for the National Council (NC) elections, it states that each gewog is eligible to nominate two candidates, a male and a female, to contest at the dzongkhag level elections.

It also states that in the event of a nomination of two or more male candidates and one female candidate from a gewog, only one male shall be selected to contest. “The same shall apply in the event of nomination of two or more female candidates and one male candidate,” the senior program officer said.

The proposal also includes ensuring that each village and chiwog will nominate only two candidates to contest in the elections for the post of gups and mangmis.

However, some of the participants say that doing this would restrict male candidates.

A participant, Tsheten Zangmo, raised her concern over how the authority concerned would select the two candidates, a male and a female, if a chiwog or a gewog has more than two male and female aspiring candidates.

Kunzang Lhamu said that the commission will re-consult with stakeholders and review the proposals in part A.

Meanwhile, NCWC officials said that the cabinet approved part B of the plan that was endorsed by NCWC in its sixth commission meeting.

Part B includes activities to respond to women’s needs, creating an enabling legislative and policy environment to enhance women’s participation, introducing support systems and services, conducting continuous awareness and advocacy programmes on gender equality and capacity building, among others.

During the conference, other pertinent women issues were also discussed. It included under representation of women in political parties.

A Danish-Swedish professor of political science at the Stockholm University, Professor Drude Dahlerup, said that a country without universal suffrage will not be labeled a democracy today. “Today, an all male or a strong male dominated political assembly has lost its democratic legitimacy.”

She said it is the responsibility of the political parties to be more inclusive in terms of gender and also minorities and youth. “Because it is the political parties who are the gatekeepers to the nominations of the candidates for the election.”

She also said that theories of the connection between socio-economic development and women’s political representation are challenged by actual developments, especially by the use of quotas.

Some of the panelists discussed if more education and more development would lead to more women representation in political parties.

The professor said that there is no historical evidence of this kind of connection. She said that the theory that the richer a country is, the higher the representation of women is no longer applicable.

The professor gave an example of Thailand, where she stated women are well educated but women representation at political sphere is only 4.9 percent.

She said there are so many qualified women in the civil society of Bhutan and there are enough to fill the whole parliament.

The professor added that the question of qualification has to be reconsidered when it comes to women representation as the post is about representing people. “If you look at India, there are people who are uneducated but a good representative of people. Therefore, we have to think out of the box,” she said.

The professor said that Bhutan is a new democracy and it has an opportunity to start from scratch to be all-inclusive in terms of gender and minorities unlike in old democracies where the political institutions were established before women had the right to participate.

She said that only eight percent of Bhutanese women were elected to the National Assembly in 2013 and many blamed women voters not voting for women for the low female representation.

She pointed out that there is no data to back this theory and that in many constituencies there were no female candidates.

Of 47 constituencies in the country, three-fourth had only male candidates, which means only nine constituencies had both female and male candidates.

She said that data available from the Election Commission of Bhutan for 2013 election state that number of votes casted for female and male candidates were almost same and it was an indication that when women are there, the voters support them as much as they support men. “Women voters should not be blamed but political parties are to be blamed for not having women in three fourth of the constituencies.”

Dechen Tshomo