Phub Dem 

Despite numerous interventions to improve the status of women and provide them with changing roles in the Bhutanese society, the prevailing gender and cultural norms still place girls and women at risk of sexual and gender-based (SGBV) and domestic violence (DV).

An impact assessment indicated that most of the activities and services delivered by RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women) are perceived to be biased towards women and girls.

Stakeholders suggested engaging boys and men in preventing public health concerns that are related to SGBV and DV.

Considering the importance of engaging men and boys to minimise and prevent DV and SGBV, RENEW, in collaboration with International Planned Parenthood Federation, came up with an assessment, Gender Norms on Sexual and Gender-based Violence among Men in Bhutan, in November of last year.

The assessment aims to understand the existing gender norms and attitudes related to DV and SGBV among men and boys, and proposes recommendations to engage them in preventing DV and SGBV.

The assessment reveals a limited understanding of DV and SGBV among men and boys.

The study noted narratives of men’s perceptions on SGBV and existing gender norms to analyse the beliefs about the causes of gender-based violence and prevention efforts. RENEW held ten focus group discussions (FGDs) in Thimphu, Paro, and Chukha that included men and boys from the communities.

The participants suggested changing the role of women, assigning blame and other perceived risk factors related to SGBV and DV, and structural issues to prevent DV and SGBV.

According to RENEW’s communication officer, Karma Tobden, people often misunderstand the organisation as specifically for women.

He said that the Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013 does not differentiate between genders. He added that RENEW emphasises on tackling gender violence through a joint effort. “RENEW, for the past couple of years, have been engaging men in our sensitisation programmes, workshops, and awareness campaigns.”

Karma Tobden said that the aim of the research was to explore creative opportunities to engage men and boys in preventing violence against women and girls and delving deeper into the root causes of SGBV in the country.

He added that participants considered physical violence and rape as the only form of violence, excluding emotional and psychological violence. The prevailing perception is that victims are always women and girls, and the perpetrators, men and boys.

“RENEW sought the help of men from Thimphu Badgers, the Bhutan Taxi Association, and the Bhutan Film Association, to use their creative and vast networks to spread awareness,” Karma Tobden said.

The findings from the focus-group discussion state that cultural acceptance of SGBV, the role of Western lifestyles, mobile phones, and perceived ‘inappropriate dressing’ among girls as one of the factors that lead to SGBV.

A participant said: “I feel that most acts of sexual violence are caused due to the way girls dress today, which tempts men or boys to commit these crimes.” It should be noted that this is a false narrative that diverts the blame and responsibility for the conscious action of men and boys committing these crimes onto their victims.

It states that such narratives call for immediate attention towards gender transformative programmes that build gender attitude and gender relation skills for young men.

In the meantime, the participants agreed that women and girls were equally capable of carrying out any tasks that were traditionally reserved for men.

The study recommended incorporating DV and SGBV in the school curriculum to bring behavioural changes.

The discussions around the causes of domestic violence indicate a common narrative: violence usually starts with extramarital affairs, followed by alcohol use.

The participants reported that traditional cultural practices and norms place women at risk of violence.

The majority of the participants agree that women and girls face more hardships than men, including DV and SGBV, due to dependence on men for financial and social security.

The participants also noted the poor implementation of laws related to marriage and DV, and that such loopholes place women at risk of violence.

The study recommended working with young boys in schools to advocate and implement comprehensive sexuality education, focusing on SGBV and DV to prevent such violence.