Fiery sister souls: A pair of female Tshogpa contenders

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Peky Samal
from Bartsham, Trashigang

Both are 30-year-olds, share a passion for singing in village gatherings, and possess dexterity with handlooms.
But what connects Lungten Dema and Dechen Choden, Tshogpa candidates from Bynangkhar Nangkhar Chiwog and Dzongthong Menchhari Chiwog from Bartsham gewog respectively is the fact that apart from being the only two women Local Government (LG) contenders from Bartsham gewog in Trashigang, they are strong and resilient survivors of divorce.
The ordeal of a broken marriage however has not resulted in broken spirits.
Lungten Dema does not have children and one certainly does not see the bitterness that could have scarred her for life. Instead, she sports a child-like innocence and an equally sweet smile as she shares her hopes and aspirations for the future.
She completed Non-Formal Education (NFE) and in her words “had always been a simple farmer” until spurred by Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW)’s advocacy programs, she took part in the first LG elections for post of Tshogpa.
She attended BNEW workshops in Mongar twice and once in the Capital, and these she said “opened up her eyes”.
“For the first time, I saw the strength and capability women possess,” she said, “ Women are definitely not less able than men. It’s just that they lack opportunities to exercise their intelligence and power.”
And though she lost the post in 2011 by just two votes, it only fueled her determination to try again this time round.
“I hope to win this time,” she said adding that it’s about time women start coming forward to take up leadership roles. She also does not foresee any problems if she wins because she is confident she will serve both the gewog authorities and people efficiently while maintaining her role as a buffer between the two.
Lungten Dema does not consider a failed marriage an obstacle to any of her dreams.
She feels that lack of confidence; gender stereotyping, and male dominance in almost every sphere of life has kept women from challenging themselves and making their presence felt.
“What women strongly require is time management skills to balance home and career,” she said.
Lungten Dema promised to encourage women participation in decision-making, and programs that would encourage them to progress “from home and hearth”.
“I have a burning desire to see more women empowered,” she said, a tone of steely determination in her voice.
Equally fierce and independent, Dechen Choden, the other woman Tshogpa contestant from Bartsham, has a hearty laugh and strong constitution that enabled her to bring up her only child who is now in primary school while taking care of house-chores, working in the field and doing a tidy business of selling vegetables.
She studied till class VII and voices that “women are equally if not more capable than men”.
“Women just need opportunities and since I have got one, I will try to set an example for other women.”
Dechen Choden was also inspired by BNEW’s workshops three of which she attended in Trashigang. She contested for the post of Tshogpa in 2011 but lost. That though hasn’t downed her zeal to “make something of herself and serve her community”.
She feels that the society is more critical of women, especially if they dare to explore new grounds, which are deemed a “man’s job”.
But Dechen Choden fights back the naysayers with her no-nonsense stance: “ I tell them, if women can be mothers, the work men do are trifles!”
Her other strategy is a sure-fire one-liner: “If we face problems while on the job, we will deal with them. That’s not your problem!”
Nothing she says will keep her from giving her best shot this time.
She also wants to take other women to BNEW workshops so that they can realize their capability.
“The foremost thing I will do if I win is ensure appropriate use of the gewog budget. There’s a lot of issues with the budget utilization these days,” she said.
As Dechen Choden’s petite figure dressed in a pastel floral wraparound and a top of the same hue disappears from sight, one is struck by the sheer power her personality exudes.
Lungten Dema will be contesting against 35-year old Sonam from Bynangkhar Nangkhar Chiwog, and Dechen Choden’s opponent is 46-year old Gyaltshen from Dzongthong Menchhari Chiwog.
From Muktangkhar Chiwog, Ugyen Dhendup and Yesel Dorji will be contesting for post of Tshogpa. Lhawang Gyeltshen and Tenzin Phuntsho are lone Tshogpa contenders from Trashang Chiwog and Jamung Kamung Chiwog respectively. In total, eight candidates will be contesting for post of Tshogpa in Bartsham Gewog.