UN: Despite a strong commitment and efforts, Bhutan continues to face increasing challenges as a result of scarce resources amidst competing priorities and other factors in implementing the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

This was pointed out by the Permanent Representative of Bhutan to the United Nations, ambassador Kinga Singye during the presentation of the eighth and ninth combined periodic report to the CEDAW committee at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland on October 27.

“They impinge on our ability to find the necessary financial, human and other resources to smoothly implement policy decisions and initiatives,” he said.

He added that recognising inadequate awareness and lack of capacity as two of the most pressing challenges, Bhutan continues to carry out awareness and sensitisation activities at all levels on gender concepts and other social issues.

He said that the country is confident that the efforts will bear fruit, however gradual, with the goodwill and support of the international community.

Bhutan ratified the CEDAW in August 1981. It presented its seventh periodic report to the committee in July 2009.

The government has taken numerous steps to empower women since then. This includes strengthening the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), enhancing the role and capacity of Civil Society Organisations (CSO) working on women and children, and initiating interventions to enhance women’s representation in elected offices.

The government attaches the highest importance to CEDAW. Each arm of the government from the Judiciary to Parliament to the Executive is fully committed to ensuring that Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights and opportunities and that all societal prejudices and barriers that hinder their role and progress in society are removed, he said.

The ambassador pointed out that while below expectations, the outcome of the recent local government elections has shown some progress. Two women were elected as heads of gewogs compared to one in 2011; 24 female deputy heads of gewos were elected compared to 12 in 2011; and the country now has 129 women village representatives compared to 96 earlier. There has been a 100 percent increase in women’s participation at the candidature level from 236 in 2011 to 476 in 2016.

“This is an outcome of the various interventions including outreach programmes conducted by the government and CSOs to encourage woman’s participation,” he reported. “Overall, we have achieved a three percent increase in women’s representation in local government. The voter turnout of women continues to be higher than men.”

On policy reform, the government has already started working on a national gender equality policy. The NCWC has prepared a concept note through multi-sectoral consultations. This policy will be instrumental in providing clear policy directives towards strengthening gender-mainstreaming initiatives in the country.

The ambassador reported that as required by the policy protocol of the government, the NCWC and Gender Focal Persons in the various ministries and agencies continue to review new policies from a gender equality perspective; notable among them is the revision of the Economic Development Policy 2010. The revised policy is further impetus to economic reforms and opportunities particularly for rural women and women entrepreneurs.

The network of gender focal persons has been expanded in all 20 dzongkhags and currently there are 46 throughout the country. They support implementation of gender-related interventions at the local and national levels. The NCWC is working towards strengthening the capacity of Gender Focal Persons and supporting development of Gender Action Plans in selected districts in the 12th Plan (2018-2023).

Coordination meetings between the NCWC, various government agencies and CSOs are being conducted regularly with the objective of instituting a proper coordination and collaboration mechanism.

Major legal outcomes include enacting the Child Care and Protection Act 2011 and the Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013.

The government has extended maternity leave for women in public service from three months to six months and paternity leave from five working days to 10 working days with effect from March 2016.

From July this year, mandatory indicators on gender equality have been incorporated in the 2016-2017 Annual Performance Agreements of all government ministries and autonomous agencies signed with the Prime Minister.

Improving access to employment opportunities, as of June 2016, a total of 3,681 female youths as compared to 2,407 male youths have been trained and employed through various government schemes like Employment Skills Scheme, Overseas Employment Scheme, and Direct Employment Scheme.

Based on the findings of the impact assessment of Cooperatives and Self Help Groups, continued support is being provided to form such groups at the local level. As of 2016 there are 388 registered farmers’ groups and cooperatives of which 45 percent of the members are female.

On female access to education, the education ministry has adopted the concept of gender responsive pedagogy and trained teachers towards this end. In addition, targeted interventions to provide sanitary napkins to girls enrolled in boarding schools is being continued to make the school environment more conducive for girls.

Similarly, efforts are ongoing to implement the recently developed Technical and Vocational Training blueprint to increase girl’s participation in Technical Training Institutes.

A pre-trial detention and rehabilitation centre for women and girls has been established within the Royal Bhutan Police. The RBP has a Woman and Child Protection Division at the headquarters and units or desks in 10 districts.

Bhutan released the first nationwide study on violence against children in October, 2016. A similar survey on violence against women is planned in 2017.

A proposal for identifying a government lead agency on preventing and combating trafficking in persons in the country has been finalized and submitted to the Cabinet. The proposal was prepared through a consultative process with all agencies including CSOs.

“A dedicated project to combat trafficking in persons is currently being undertaken,” he said

A nationwide advocacy programme on HIV/AIDS, gender issues including violence against women, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and existing services for women and children in difficult circumstances, led by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck, is currently underway.

“Bhutan stands committed to uphold and implement the 2030 agenda on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and appreciates the stand-alone goal on gender equality,” he said.

The Constitution provides the overall framework for the promotion and protection of women’s rights and their empowerment: fundamental rights are equally bestowed on women and men. Fundamental duties require every Bhutanese not to tolerate abuse of women; principles of state policy guide actions to eliminate discrimination against women and children. It also recognises ratified international treaties like CEDAW as a deemed law of the Kingdom.

He said that the country’s development philosophy of GNH articulates the idea and vision of a just and harmonious society and all development policies and programmes are aimed at creating an environment where every woman, child and man are involved and benefit from development and growth.

“Every policy requires to be screened using a GNH policy-screening tool, which has gender equality as one of the parameters in the rating,” he said.

Tshering Palden