A survey of 20 drayangs in the country found that 83 percent of the drayang workers are female between the ages of 18 to 26.

The survey, which was conducted by students of Gaeddu College of Business Studies, found that 33 percent of the female workers were uneducated and about 81 percent came from poor rural households.

Bhutan Vulnerability Baseline Assessment 2016 recommended the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR), National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) to coordinate and setup a unified system to monitor female worker’s safety and security.

NCWC is the authority that oversees issues faced by women and children and is responsible in partnership with stakeholders to address their issues.

“Activities at drayangs highlight women’s sexuality, which brings along with it a series of risks, exposing them to socioeconomic and physical security-related vulnerabilities,” the report states.

The assessment also recommended government investments and entrepreneurial training with the focus to increasing women’s livelihood opportunities and engaging them in alternative training and activities to open other employment opportunities.

The report highlighted that hardly any women had joined the tailoring course introduced by MoLHR in the past to steer drayang workers to alternative livelihoods. “This was primarily because the income they would expect to derive after learning the skill under consideration is less than quarter of what they earn by working at a drayang.”

Drayang workers can earn up to Nu 25,000 a month depending on the number of clients/customers they are able to entertain and the number of “requests” they collect for songs or dances.

The report said that there was the need to revisit the employment and labour standards in the context of drayangs.

Women working in drayangs are vulnerable to stigma and discrimination, health issues, and vulnerabilities associated with alcohol consumption.

Drayang workers and drayangs are viewed negatively in the society. This leaves drayang workers vulnerable too social scrutiny and criticism.

Availability of alcohol increases chances of workers developing alcohol addiction, leaving them susceptible to sexual exploitation, said the report. Dimly lit rooms and amplified music of the drayangs could pose health risks to the workers and their children.

The report found that the primary reason for women joining drayangs was economic pressure and limited awareness about alternative livelihood opportunities.

Drayangs offer employment options for those who migrate to urban areas in search of better opportunities.  The report states that drayang owners hire women based on qualities such as physical appearance and ability to sing and dance. Educational and qualification hardly matter. “It was revealed during discussions that a number of women who migrate to cities from rural areas are not aware of the various livelihood options available to them.”

According to the report, drayangs are also seen as a platform to showcase talent and passion to sing and dance, which might translate into an opportunity to work in the media and entertainment industry. “There is a general lack of other platforms or mediums through which women and girls can showcase their talent, which may contribute to drayangs having emerged as a route to the media and entertainment industry.”

Female workers at drayangs are among the 14 vulnerable groups identified in the report.

Karma Cheki