Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

For the past four years, 41-year-old Dechenmo has been running a flower nursery at Wangkha, Chukha.

The business is her main occupation but it has suffered from reaching a larger market.

“I want to take my flowers to Thimphu,” Dechenmo said. “But the thromde doesn’t allow me to sell the flowers there.”

The florist said that the business was good and she would earn Nu 20,000 per month from her 50 decimal nursery during peak season. She also made 100 flower pots and sold them all recently.

Dechenmo shared her story at the “awareness generation workshop on gender dimensions of trade facilitation in Bhutan” in Phuentsholing yesterday.

Organised by Bhutan Media and Communications Institute (BMCI), the workshop is a part of a regional project called “Gender Dimensions of Trade Facilitation; Evidence from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.”

The workshop created awareness on the business environment for women in Bhutan with reference to available policies, facilities, support services, business infrastructure, and social and economic support.

BMCI director Pushpa Chhetri said the gender dimension project was to understand the women in medium and small-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

“We are trying to understand the challenges women face in doing business,” she said.

Women comprise about half of the population in Bhutan and there was the need to understand where they stood in terms of trade. Although there is protection legally, Pushpa Chhetri said it was the question of women availing the services optimally or not.

BMCI has surveyed the women in trade and business in Phuentsholing, Thimphu and Samdrupjongkhar to find out such issues. The workshop was to validate and authenticate the survey findings.

National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) director Kunzang Lhamo, who is also the project’s advisory committee member said the project was about how Bhutanese women were faring in trade and facilitation.

“It is to know whether there is enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in trade,” she said, adding that there is a dearth of information on women’s economic empowerment.

“We are hoping to generate information through this project so that we can carry out critical actions to create enabling gender-friendly environment for women entrepreneurs in the trade sector.”

Kunzang Lhamo said that it was found that most women in trading were either SMEs or other cottage industries. They are operating informally for self-employment, she said explaining it left room for vulnerabilities.

Various other issues and opportunities were also discussed at the workshop.

Fronting issue in Phuentsholing was also highlighted. Use of digitised marketing strategies, proper marketing and branding, and financing and its struggles were also discussed.

The proprietor of Manu Exports that deals in boulders, dolomite powder and crushed stones, Ashika Rai, 28 said Bhutanese women are “very shy.”

“They don’t usually come up to do business,” she said, adding that women also depended heavily on their spouses for financial support.

“I would like to encourage women of my generation into the business.”

Meanwhile, BMCI will disseminate the project report to all the relevant stakeholders. It would also be shared during the National Policy Dialogue. The findings would also be tabled for discourse at the regional level in which Bangladesh, India and Nepal will participate with their findings.