The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW) launched a joint initiative for gender equality yesterday in Thimphu.
Called the Bhutan Women Parliamentary Caucus (BWPC), it is expected to address the need for women role models at leadership and decision-making levels by facilitating and supporting women leaders to be competent to gain society’s trust and confidence in women leadership.
BWPC will be a visible and inclusive platform for women political actors, aspirants and supporters to come together, network, dialogue, advocate and inspire each other to further the goal of gender equality in elected offices and leadership in all spheres.
It is also expected to enhance the voice and visibility of women to nurture a society where women in leadership is a norm rather than an exception.
The NCWC director Kunzang Lhamu and BNEW executive director Phuntshok Choden highlighted that Bhutanese women, despite being competent, face far greater challenges to participate in elections or be in leadership positions.
They said the number of women participating in parliamentary elections is decreasing, indicating a lack of interest. With women representation still poor, reaching a critical mass of 33 percent remains a distant dream.
The percentage of women elected in Parliament decreased from 13.8 in 2008 to 8.3 in 2013. There was an increase to 15.3 percent in 2018. At the local government (LG) level, there is a slight improvement from 7.8 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent in 2016.
Kunzang Lhamu said the institution of a temporary special measure has featured as a crucial recommendation from the CEDAW expert committee during their periodic report presentations.
She said the possibilities of temporary special measures were discussed and consultation meeting held at various levels since 2013. “In the current scenario, temporary special measures in the form of quota or reserved seats is highly unlikely, but the need for affirmative action is inevitable to close the gender equality gap.”
Phuntshok Choden said with gender biases, stereotypes, norms and attitudes deeply entrenched in the society, prevalent notions reserve the domain of politics and leadership for men. “This result in the number of women contesting in election gradually.”
Demographically 47.7 percent of the population is female and more than 51 percent voters during every elections so far are female.
The executive director said equitable participation of women in politics, governance and leadership are essential for building, sustaining and deepening democracy.
She said BNEW worked hard to build capacity of women in Local Government to ensure that they not only ensure their own re-lection but also pave way for other women to participate and gain the trust and confidence of society on women leadership.
The minister of health, Dechen Wangmo, said the voices of Bhutanese women are not adequately heard in all spheres. “It is important to enable, encourage and empower women and NCWC and BNEW is doing a wonderful job.”
She said BWPC would help in achieving international and national goals.
She is the chair of BWPC. Former minister Dorji Choden and MP Tshering Choden are vice-chairs.
Besides informal interventions such as BNEW caucus and a Whatsapp group, NCWC and BNEW officials claim there has never been such a network as BWPC.
Kunzang Lhamu said BWPC is envisaged to guide and shape the strategies and interventions of both organisations, strengthen collaboration and support towards women. “It will form a visible and inclusive platform for women actors, aspirants and supporters to help and support women.”
There were events that led to NCWC and BNEW to form BWPC.
More than 200 women voiced the need for a platform for women to network and support each other in the third national conference on Women in Parliamentary held in 2018.
NWCW and BNEW signed a MoU for working on gender equality in elected offices. In absence of legislation on quota for women (pledge dropped) in 2016 BWPC could prove useful to advance the gender agenda.
What is BWPC?
It is a platform that is focused on showcasing women leadership and promoting voice and visibility of women, to gain trust and confidence of society in women leadership thereby increasing the chances of women to get elected.
It is also a platform to ensure that women’s rights, gender equality, child rights and social agendas remain central in the work of Parliament. “Through this caucus, it will unite women in Parliament and outside to speak as one strong voice,” Phuntshok Choden said.
She said it would also provide capacity building for elected, non-elected and potential women leaders. “It is not just for women and parliament but inclusive.”
BWPC would create a multi-stakeholders caucus to empower women MPs to be strong gender advocates within their parties, parliamentary committees and in the Parliament.
It will ensure that women’s rights and gender equality and child rights agendas remain central in the work of Parliament.
Bhutan’s position on WIP in the region and the world
Bhutan occupies the 13th position among 103 countries in terms of representation of women in Parliament. Bhutan’s highest thus far with 15.2 percent WIP is far below the regional average of 19.6 percent and the world average of 24.3 percent.
In SAARC region, we are ranked 7th with lowest being Pakistan.
In the global gender report 2018 by World economic forum, Bhutan is ranked 138 out of 149 countries in the subcategory or index political empowerment of women.
Bhutan’s global gender gap ranking has been sliding since the assessment began, as it fell from 93 in 2013 to 124 in 2017.