Despite the higher percentage of female voters (51%), there aren’t many running for politics

Chencho Dema | Punakha

Women had taken part in politics, with some of them at the helm of governance and leading political parties as party president. However, even with studies showing widespread public acceptance of female politicians, women’s political participation remains low still.

The first female minister Dorji Choden  (2013-2018), Dasho Neten Zangmo, the party president of BKP in 2018 and serving health minister, Dechen Wangmo who is also the president of the 74th World Health Assembly, are household names with many appreciating their leadership. Their presence or dominance could not, however, encourage women to come out as expected, going by what political parties say.

Parties look for female candidates for many reasons. A good number of female candidates is good for representation and gender equality in politics. It can be a strategy to woo voters. However, parties find it hard to woo women.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) General Secretary (GS) Phurba said political parties prefer experienced and qualified women who can compete. “But they are hard to find,” he said. Times have changed, says Phurba. “Today we have more qualified and experienced women running for other offices. However, many are not interested in politics.”

For the upcoming election, DNT is seeking more female candidates, and if given the option, they intend to field additional female candidates to replace members who will leave the party because of the age criteria.

The People’s Democratic Party  (PDP)  has a vision to have an equal number of female candidates in the party. But like the others, they could not get enough women, according to GS Kuenga Tashi. He said PDP approached many women to replace the vacant constituencies. The party could secure two, one withdrew at the last moment citing some pressing family matter.

“We understand that the decision to contest an election is more difficult for women. All the women we approached had concerns over uncertainties of politics and the impact on their livelihood and the welfare of the family. PDP as a party and the country as a whole must ensure women equal opportunity in all aspects of life, especially in politics,” he added.

Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) president Dasho Pema Chewang said BTP has three female candidates and are ready to rope in more. The president said that it is difficult to get female candidates because of the deeply entrenched stereotypes in the society.

In the interest of the party, BTP will not issue seats to women on a quota basis. “We have gone for capability and that doesn’t mean we undermine the importance of gender equity and women’s representation in decision-making.”

Seasoned politician and Leader of the Opposition Party, Dorji Wangdi, agrees that women are still less forthcoming than men. “The reason simply could be in politics not being worth the risks of family’s economic security and also social and psychological costs involved. I feel the key to greater participation of women in politics lies in economic empowerment,” the OL who had served three consecutive terms said.

DPT today has four female candidates. “We are happy we have four female candidates for the fourth parliamentary elections, but we still have a few more seats to fill in and we are in talks with some more, ” he said.

Chairperson of Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) Media and Public Relations, Sonam Wangyel Wang (PhD), said DTT is aware about the low number of female candidates in the country and they are putting in all efforts to attract them.

“The reason is that we have a high percentage of females in our country (about 51%) and that policy must be made based on balanced representation,” he said.

He also said that the party has an inclusive charter with special focus on encouraging participation from women, youth and the disabled. “We are all out to recruit as many female candidates as we can. Our party consultations require that every member whether female, male, or youth to be heard, all views are equally respected,” he said.

At the moment DTT has only one, Susan Lama from Shompangkha gewog in Sarpang.


In the past

In 2008, there were a total of 10 female candidates. PDP had six and DPT four. Four women were elected. In 2013, four women were elected – three from PDP and one from DPT. Dorji Choden from Thrimshing-Kangpara in Trashigang of the PDP became the first female minister. Dechen Zangmo from Nanong-Shumar constituency in Pema Gatshel was the lone DPT candidate to be elected.

In 2018, DNT fielded six women with six getting elected, the most so far or 10.85% of the candidature.

After BKP and PDP got ousted in the primary round, the 11 women, six from DNT and 5 from DPT, were among the 94 candidates who contested for a seat in the NA.

MP Karma Lhamo said that most women are not forthcoming because of family obligations.

Norbu Wangzom, a DPT MP, believes that although there are more women in the country than men, they are less qualified and less risk-taking than men. “We attempted to recruit female candidates, but they refused, she added.

A close political observer said there are not enough potential women while many are not forthcoming. “Head hunting candidates has not helped,” he said.  “Women are not ready to face the uncertainties of politics. They will not risk their current position or job for uncertain political outcomes.”

A social worker, Pema Choki, said that from election records, female candidates had not received many votes. As a result, many female candidates have stopped running for election.