A small yet encouraging development in the on-going local government (LG) elections is the improved participation of women. Although in the initial stage of nominating candidates, more women had come out to compete for the LG posts.
How many of them will be elected and to what post will be seen in a month’s time, but it is a welcome sign to see more women, including university graduates, contesting. There are more women vying for the tshogpa and mangmi posts. This should not be construed as women hesitating to compete for the highest post at the local level.
All posts at the local level are important. There are candidates, several of them, who had served as tshogpas and are vying for the post of mangmi and mangmis contesting for the gup.
It is said that the status of women in a country is measured by the participation of women in politics. Although the local government is “apolitical” it is no different from the parliamentary elections. It is the conduct of the elected local officials, not the system of elections, that is apolitical. Women, like men, are campaigning or seeking support of the people and they have ideas and plans for their chiwog or gewog.
Unlike in the past, where villagers have to coerce or request village elders to become the gup or mangmi, women are raising their voice. In some places, it is women who are encouraging women to stand elections. Going by some women candidates, they have gained experience and confidence to contest elections. There are encouraging signs like the public feeling more comfortable with women candidates in sharing their problems and challenges.
In the last LG elections in 2016, only 2 women were elected as gups. This was in Dagana, a dzongkhag known for electing the country’s first female gup. In other words, it has come as an encouragement as well as an example that women can lead.
There are challenges. However, the challenges are in our mindset rather than with the candidates. That women are incompetent and only good as homemakers should change. So should the notion that women are the nangi -aum. In our context, the nangi-aum is an important responsibility. It is said that if one cannot manage a family, they will not manage the affairs of a constituency or the country.
More than anything, women participating in the political process is vital for empowering women and strengthening democracy. It should not only be the barometer for gender equality or country’s achievement, but for representing their issues. In every election, women outnumber men as voters. Women should also understand that they have the upper hand, in terms of numbers, and that women can represent them better in political decision-making.
If there are fewer women participating, it is because we are creating the hurdles. Both men and women themselves, especially in the rural pockets are convinced, without any evidence, that men are better at politics or representing people. This becomes an advantage for the male candidates as they seize on this misconstrued belief.
More than a decade into democracy, we should see changes in women representation whether at the local or parliamentary level. Recognition of women’s role through awareness still seems to be the need even as more women come out to contest elections.
The importance is summed up by a tshogpa who is contesting again when she said that but for her “understanding’ husband, she would have quit the job as the responsibility involved meeting too many people and time away from family.