Today is a special day – March 8, International Women’s Day! The significance of the day transcends mere observation of many programmes planned around this world event. It means, more importantly, the dawn of a new day that will see us through to the end of 2019 as we strive to build a more balanced world by building gender-balanced societies. So it is, #BalanceforBetter, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day.
For Bhutan, a country that has witnessed rapid economic development over the years and continue to forge ahead with even greater alacrity, this may be a day to pause and reflect on the journeys that have been at times rough and overwhelming. The way the Bhutanese society is, informed and shaped by our unique cultures and traditions, it is perhaps too easy to believe that we are a gender-balanced society. But this believe comes from considering only certain realities on the surface. It is a flawed perception.
Certainly, we do not treat our women like in other societies. Access to opportunities have always been open as much as they are made available to men, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t a lot to do to improve the conditions that will allow our women to prosper and do better. In fact, most Bhutanese women are still employed in family-based agriculture and constitute a small portion of regular paid jobs. Certain biases against women and inherent discrimination still stand on the way in our society today. Do we have, for instance, enough measures to guarantee our women from decadent cultural practices? Does our education system have gender sensitive curricula and vocational training to empower our girls and women? A lot more can and must be done to make Bhutan more gender-balanced.
What we must understand is that building a gender-balanced Bhutan doesn’t mean feminism or senseless activism that often tend to derail sublime visions of making our world a better place. Gender balance is critically important for economies and communities to thrive. The fact that we have just a handful of women in the parliament and top executive positions today says a lot about the gender gap that needs to be narrowed. A recent global gender gap report showing that Bhutan has seen an increase in gender imparity over the past few years is a stark reminder that we aren’t doing enough to close the gender gap. The year-long #BalanceforBetter must encourage us to invest in collective responsibility to make Bhutan a more gender-balanced society.