The second national conference on “women in governance, leadership and politics” held in Thimphu last week proposed that political parties should allot at least 30 percent of election tickets to women in parliamentary elections in 2018. However, this won’t happen, at least for the upcoming elections.

There are no plans by parties to reserve election tickets for women, except for Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), a party headed by a woman president, Lily Wangchuk. Endorsement of individual parties is a must for the proposal to be implemented.

There is no consensus on whether or not Bhutan should have any level of reservation of seats for women. It was against this background the conference endorsed the proposal.

This was one of the three major proposals of the “Thimphu Declaration” issued by the organisers of the conference, which MPs and experts from Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and Denmark attended. Those proposals are aimed at achieving gender parity in Bhutan by 2030.

If the proposal is to be implemented, a party would nominate about 14 woman candidates for the 47-member National Assembly. It would significantly increase the number of women in the Assembly.

However, there was no consensus on how Bhutan could facilitate election of more women in the National Council without amending the election Act. In 2013, three women were elected to the Assembly, but none to the National Council.

With two women nominees of the Druk Gyalpo in the Council, women constitute 6.9 percent of the total of 72 MPs.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) secretary general, Ugyen Dorji, said his party has not endorsed the idea of allocating 30 percent of election tickets to women. “There is no agreement to that effect,” he said, adding that DPT is not a party to the terms of the Thimphu Declaration. “We were not present during the endorsement of the declaration,” he said.

Most Bhutanese women say they don’t feel comfortable grabbing leadership positions through reservations, reasoning that they won’t be as proud and confident as their collogues who are directly elected by the people. Instead, they want the election environment to be more conducive.

DCT President Lily Wangchuk said: “Most of our parties are not willing to accept the resolution of the conference because they think women have lesser winning chances than men.

“With or without the Thimphu Declaration, 30 percent of our candidates will comprise women.”

Lily Wangchuk acknowledged that men in general have larger networks and are financially better off than women. “But it’s the responsibility of every party to facilitate increased participation of women in politics through reservations,” she added.

Reservations will ensure numbers in all levels of decision-making, but some fear that it would compromise the quality of the elected body. Supporters of reservations, on the other hand, say a quota will enable a party to nominate capable people for leadership posts.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s general secretary Tenzin Lekhphel said the party has not reached any agreement on reservations. “We are not aware of the agreement reached at the conference, nor have we agreed on reservations for women,” he said.

The conference also proposed to increase the number of elected local women leaders by 30 percent through “fast track measures” by 2021. To achieve this goal, the conference called for review and amendment of electoral laws, the Bhutan Civil Service Rules 2012, and relevant policies.

Only 11 percent or 159 of the 1,423 elected members, which includes two women gups, in the local government today are women.

The conference proposed for state funding for local government candidates and called for adoption of gender equality policies. Other proposed measures to achieve gender parity include revisiting party manifestos to mainstream gender.

According to a report published by the Election Commission of Bhutan in 2014, women in general are considered less capable and inferior in decision-making and for representation in elected offices. About 24 percent of the voters surveyed suggested allocation of quotas for women.

The Thimphu Declaration also proposes that women representation at the executive level in the civil service should be increased by 25 percent by 2025.

Although the gender gap in the civil service has narrowed over the years, executives and specialists that provide leadership to the bureaucracy account for less than one percent of the total number of civil servants, according to the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) annual report 2016. There were a total of 253 civil servants in the executive and specialist category as of June 30 last year.

On average, in other bureaucracies, the executives and specialists account for around 3-5 percent.

Overall, the composition of women in the civil service increased to 35.32 percent in 2016 from 29.5 percent in 2008.

According to the RCSC, while it recognises the issue, finding solutions that will help address the gap while upholding meritocracy remains a challenge.

The gender gap is not officially recognised as an issue in Bhutan. The country ranked a lowly 121st among 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index 2016.

MB Subba