To respect, educate, nurture, and empower women, especially those in difficult circumstances, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck founded RENEW in 2004.
The organisation, which works towards renewing the dignity of women addresses the issues of gender inequality through awareness, education, strategising action plans to promote and advocate communal responsibility to stop domestic violence, and sexual and gender-based violence. It was registered as a CSO in 2010.
Executive Director Tandin Wangmo said addressing domestic violence and gender inequalities are challenging as it happens behind closed doors and the survivors have trouble sharing their problems. “People don’t accept that there is violence in the family as it happens privately,” she said. “Women also feel justifiable for their husband to treat them that way.”
Studies on domestic violence showed how entrenched and accepted the phenomenon was in the society. A study conducted by RENEW in 2007 showed that the presence and acceptance of domestic violence are higher among women with little or no education. In 2010, a National Statistics Bureau survey found 68.4 percent of Bhutanese women accepted domestic violence is normal while a National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) study in 2012 found that 74 percent of women accepted domestic violence as normal.
However, the number of domestic violence cases reported to RENEW has increased over the years. Around 385 cases were reported until November 22 this year. Trashigang reported 45 cases, the highest followed by 33 from Punakha and Samtse each and 29 from Dagana. Of the total cases reported to RENEW, four percent were from men.
RENEW’s Director of Community Outreach Department, Meenakshi Rai (PhD), said people feel that the organisation works only for women. “While we work with women, there should be an understanding that we are working with the whole family,” she said. “It is a woman who is home with children most of the time. We need to empower them as they play a vital role in the lives of family and children.”
While the organisation is mandated to promote gender equality and equity to prevent violence against women, provide support and care services for survivors of violence and address gender-based violence and sexual reproductive health of women, it also seeks support from men to understand the vulnerability of women.
Meenakshi Rai said the organisation is for the family. “We are fostering family values, sexual reproductive health and gender inequality to which women are most vulnerable. If gender inequality is there, violence against women would exist,” she said. “While we work on the needs to address gender equality, we are not looking about the power struggle between men and women. We are talking about the opportunities and the needs that we need to look at.”
RENEW provides counseling, an integral part of rebuilding family lives, for families or individuals in need. It also provides emergency shelter to survivors of family violence and children in an emergency situation. Around 150 individuals availed shelter services from the organisation in 2014.
It also provides legal support services, livelihood skills training and microfinance scheme to make them economically independent. Gawailing Happy Home in Thimphu, which opened since 2013 shelters survivors of domestic violence, which include children.
There are today 23 children at the happy home. The organisation supports children with the studies. RENEW offers scholarships to underprivileged children and youth. Believing that access to education is the principle need for social transformation, RENEW supported 450 youths in 2015.
Through a network of volunteers, RENEW has a nationwide reach. Community-Based Support System (CBSS) and Druk Adolescent’s Initiative on Sexual Awareness Network (DAISAN) are the two adult and youth volunteers network that provide services of RENEW in all 20 dzongkhags.
CBSS is a network of community members that ensures the safety and security of domestic violence survivors. DAISAN is the youth volunteer network founded to strengthen youth-adult partnerships and to encourage meaningful participation in spreading rights and awareness of sexual reproductive health.
The organisation receives support from UN agencies like; UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, and UN Women and international agencies of Australia, Finland, Germany and works with in-country stakeholders and government agencies.
The government supports the association with human resource. The education ministry has provided two male counselors, the health ministry has deputed two health assistants, the office of the attorney general has provided a legal officer and the finance ministry, a finance officer.
Meenakshi Rai said the biggest challenge faced by the organisation is the nature of issues they address in the society. “Although we have all the policies and Acts formulated regarding the issues of domestic violence, we are lagging while implementing them. We need collaboration and coordination with the stakeholders concerned for the implementation.”
The organisation is exploring means to strengthen collaboration at all levels. “We are unable to reach our services to every section of the society. And we are in need of professionals and dedicated person as our field of work requires the need to meet people of various backgrounds with different issues,” Meenakshi Rai said.
While the organisation trained graduates in management and essential life skills as volunteers, they are not able to retain them for long term.