The public remain divided on women entering a culturally male dominated sport 

Tradition: Aum Dechey, 52, and her eight-member team from Gasa arrived in Thimphu at around midnight for a khuru match against a team from Dagana.

Aum Dechey is taking part for the third time in the national khuru tournament organized in the country. The mother of two said that she enjoys the game so much that given an option between food and khuru, she would choose khuru.

The game between Gasa and Dagana takes place on March 16. A large audience has gathered at Changjiji, just below the flyover bridge.

There is something different. Most of the spectators are male. While the women holding khurus sing and dance, the men watch in awe.

This is women empowerment some comment, mockingly.

Some of the players are good. They have hit a few karays. Aum Dechey, the eldest player, is one of them.

The comments about women empowerment fade. Both the men and women are enjoying the tournament.

The game ends in favour of the team from Dagana.

The Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA) introduced the annual women’s khuru tournament in 2010. This is the third tournament being held in Thimphu.

BIGSA General Secretary, Lhagey Tshering, said that the reason for introducing the women’s khuru tournament was to encourage women participation in traditional sports. “We have a mandate to promote our traditional games at the same time provide equal opportunities to both the genders,” said Lhagey Tshering. “While the men are already engaged in such games from a very long time, women are just starting and this is  very good news for us.”

While the participation from dzongkhags in such tournaments has been positive, there has also been much criticism. When the tournament was first introduced six years ago, many argued that women should not  encroach into a traditionally male dominated sport. There was both negative and positive feedback.

Sonam Dorji, a retired soldier who had come to witness the game said that the women were much better at hitting the target than men. “A man playing khuru is normal and normal is uninteresting,” the 70-year-old said. “We don’t usually get to see such events often and I’m enjoying every bit of it watching the women play.”

On grounds of women empowerment and gender equality, many supported the initiative. Kinley Dorji, a student of Kelki Higher    Secondary School said that in the interest of promoting the game and women equality in sports, there is nothing wrong with women playing khuru.

Sangay Dema, another student said that there is no shame in playing a game, which is mostly dominated by men if an individual has genuine interest. “Gender equality or not, this is a basic human right to be able to do what one likes without people interfering,” she said.

But there are still a few who are strongly against such activities. A businessman in Thimphu who didn’t want to be named said that it was unbecoming for the women to play khuru. “It’s traditionally and culturally wrong for women to play such games,” he said. “Archery and khuru are games meant to be played by men and when women play such games, they are challenging our age-old tradition.”

“When I have a crucial archery match the next day, I don’t allow my wife or even daughter to touch my bow and arrows because people say it brings bad luck,” said Pema Khandu, a private employee. “Maybe it’s just a superstitious belief but we’re a nation built upon such beliefs,” he said.

Some even believe that when the tradition is challenged, calamities strike the country. The recent series of forest fires might also be because of the women playing khuru in Thimphu hinted a cooperate employee.

Yonten Tshering, a college student said that women empowerment is important to be addressed and opportunities in all aspects of life need to be open for both the genders. “If a woman wants to break the age old norms just to prove that she is equal to any man and can do whatever a man can, their intention is not noble,” he said. “Stressing on physical capabilities and comparing will take women to a certain length only. While this is a strong assertion, it is more physical and less powerful.”

Younten Tshedup