Bhutan is the only country in the region that does not have a chamber where issues concerning women entrepreneurs could be raised and addressed, a recent consultative meeting revealed.

The two-day meeting on effective policies of women entrepreneurship in SAARC region, organised by the Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAOWE) and South Asian Women Development Forum (SAWDF) with women entrepreneurs, associations, experts and stakeholders, also revealed that Bhutanese women entrepreneurs lack a formal platform and policies for development.

Representatives from Bhutan said that unlike other countries in the region, Bhutan does not have special incentives or tax exemptions for women entrepreneurs. They said the country also lacks access to regional and international markets.

Participants recommended the need for women representation in SAARC, bank that caters to women with branches in all the member states, cross border trade, a regional trade facilitation centre for data and information on each country, policies specific to women entrepreneurs and a monitoring body for the implemented policies.

BAOWE’s chief executive officer, Damchae Dem, said that Bhutan, compared to other countries in the region, has less gender inequality with gender balanced laws. “But there is a lack of a formal platform to address the strength and weaknesses of businesswomen,” she said. “If we have a specific chamber for women, issues and policies related to women entrepreneurs can be addressed and established.”

She said that the chamber would bring in different civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations for women entrepreneurs under a single umbrella.

Damchae Dem said BAOWE has submitted a proposal to the government to establish a chamber for women in Bhutan as well. “We are waiting for a response.”

A participant from Maldives said donors are willing to provide fund for development of businesswomen only to a recognised organisation such as a chamber for women. “Such chamber can also push the government to implement policies which will be beneficial,” she said.

The consultative meeting also focused on the policies implemented by the government to help women entrepreneurs and found that there was no visible policy catering to the development of women entrepreneurs in Bhutan.

SAWDF’s president, Pramila Acharya Rijal, said that the consultative meeting, which ended yesterday, was aimed at having women representation at SAARC forums. “Today, there are six technical committees but there is no women representation,” she said.

On the first day, participants focused on the positive points and the policies implemented by each government for the development of women entrepreneurs in SAARC countries. The second day discussed on the gaps each country had and made recommendations to address those gaps.

Pramila Acharya Rijal said the recommendations would be compiled into a report, which will be forwarded to the SAARC secretariat in Katmandu, Nepal.

Phurpa Lhamo and  Karma Cheki