Everyday, at least one woman experiences domestic violence in Bhutan.
This is, however, based on cases reported to RENEW, perhaps the only organisation that is at the forefront of addressing this epidemic in the country today.
Records with RENEW show that the number of domestic violence cases is on the rise. From 243 cases in 2009, the number of those subjected to physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse has risen to 385 this year. Among the cases reported this year, 13 were sexually abused, one every month. Records show that 3.1 percent of women among those experiencing sexual violence are between 15-19 years and 80 percent were abused more than once.
After spouse, fathers and teachers are reported as the main perpetrators of domestic violence.
Although studies show that domestic violence is considered a norm in the country with women finding it justified when she does not perform her duties, trends such as these are disturbing. We must accept that claims of women in Bhutan being better off than their counterparts in the rest of the region is also a norm that the society has constructed. The wellbeing of our women is not determined by how other societies treat theirs.
The prevalence of domestic violence, which occurs when power is misused by one in a relationship to control another is rampant in Bhutan. Despite having laws and information and will, it appears that we are doing little for the welfare of women and children.
Our tolerance to norms of domestic violence and blaming culture for the way of Bhutanese life is today causing the society to disintegrate. We have failed our youth. We abandon the elderly. We batter our women. In each of these situation, we blame them – the youth for taking to drugs, not the jobs offered, the elderly for being a burden and women for provoking abuse. How did we become a society that takes help from others but fails to help each other? The culture of apathy that we have imbibed is not a trait of a progressive society. When its women and children are not even safe at home, a society is disintegrating.
It was timely for the Parliament to question the work of the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC). The issue , however , had a political sheen for it questioned the achievements of the only female minister as the chair of the commission. But with RENEW and its network of volunteers working in the fields for the welfare of women and children in difficult circumstances, we ask what NCWC has done in protecting and promoting the rights of women and children in the country? The number of domestic violence cases reported to RENEW (385) and NCWC (17) this year shows that the commission has much to do to show that its existence is not redundant.
But the wellbeing of women and children is everyone’s responsibility. Marking a day to eliminate violence against them is not enough. Our women and children deserve better.