LG:It was history in the making, as Wangdue, one of the dzongkhags with the most gewogs elected its first ever woman mangmi.

Despite several awareness programmes on democracy and women’s empowerment, it was still a tough fight for the women contestants in getting votes.

Unlike the first local government election, this one saw one gup and eight women mangmi candidates. However, only one of the women was elected on September 27 poll day.

Sonam Lham, 29, the mangmi-elect of Darka (Daga) is the first ever local leader elected from her gewog. She won the election securing 242 votes against her two opponents who secured 228 and 217 votes.

“It was really a challenge to gain the people’s confidence and to stand and speak against a group of male contenders,” said Sonam Lham. “But having to speak out for women at the common forums, where the majority of the audience were women was a gifted opportunity.”

Sonam Lham, the youngest of five siblings, also takes care of her sick mother. She studied until class X. In 2011 she lost her father in a fire accident.

Sonam Lham said she was interested in local government since her school days but she lacked the confidence to consider contesting. It was only after a women’s empowerment training that she got the required confidence to contest.

The challenges were not limited to public speaking and entering a male dominated arena. “People questioned electing a woman as the head of community when there were more capable men contesting,” said Sonam Lham. “I had to fight back all odds.”

But there were also many locals who encouraged her, said Sonam Lham.

While people understand the basics of democracy and the importance of women participating, the traditional belief that only men can and should rule is still a challenge to overcome, she said.

As a candidate of one of the remotest gewogs, Sonam even had to walk for hours and sometimes days, to conduct a common forum or for her door-to-door campaign. The farthest was Kamina-Wogay, which is more than an eight-hour walk, she said. It takes another five hours to reach the villages beyond Kamina-Wogay.

However, as a farmer herself, Sonam Lham said she had no problem in walking long distances.

Sonam Lham said she will fulfill her pledges to the people and also focus on women’s rights and education. She pledged to improve gewog-to-people services, which she believes, has been lagging. To improve farm roads and help provide seedlings for farmers were some of her other pledges.

The election also saw 28 women tshogpa contestants from 77 chiwogs in 15 gewogs of Wangdue. However only seven were elected.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue