Election 2018 will see fewer female candidates than we had in the election year of 2013. The drop in the number of women representation in the politics from 31 to 19 is far from encouraging.

To say that Bhutanese women are averse to politics and are reluctant to participate in the nation’s political process would not be just in error but by far and away wide off the mark. Formidable stumbling blocks born of culture and the way we look at the aptitude of women stand tall in our society still. These difficult and forbidding barriers are in the main sad factors that discourage our women from taking part in the politics.

As 11 women candidates from three political parties gathered in a quiet resort in Paro this week, they shared with journalists and members of civil society organisations the challenges they face on the ground. Voters, especially in the rural pockets of the country, seem to hold the view that women cannot be good politicians; male candidates and their party workers are losing no time to seize on this awfully regressive and pathetically benighted view about aspiring women politicians.

Campaigning on such grounds is vilifying women and reflects poorly on the uniquely successful democratic culture that we aspire to nurture. One doesn’t have to be physically strong to be a politician. What is required in our aspiring candidates, be they men or women, are vision, brain and determination to serve the nation and the people. Open and vulgar denigration is the least our women deserve. 

Young as some of them are, the women candidates are dynamic and exude energy and determination to represent their electorate well. One of them, from Sombaykha, will face Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. Others come with many years of service and experience in different sectors. The common thread – which is more than encouraging – is that they strongly feel they can bring change. 

Things will not change overnight, of course. Our women will continue to face such challenges but earnest efforts will have to be made to bring more women on board. The responsibility lies with the leadership of the political parties.