A wake-up call for women’s empowerment

A wake-up call for women’s empowerment

The outcome of the 4th NC election 2023 and women’s representation backslide, according to BNEW

Despite significant efforts to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality, women in Bhutan continue to face barriers to reach at decision-making positions. Notwithstanding some progress, women remain significantly underrepresented in the political arena. This is witnessed in the Fourth Parliamentary National Council (NC) election in 2023, where only one woman is elected. 

This has significant implications not just for women but for the country as a whole, most of the women representatives said, adding that the under-representation of women’s issues and priorities in policy-making hinders progress and development.

However, several factors contribute to the under-representation of women in decision-making positions. One significant barrier is the limited availability of mentorship and support networks for women seeking leadership positions. While there are some initiatives aimed at promoting women’s leadership and political participation, they are often underfunded and limited in scope.

Despite these challenges, many women in Bhutan are working tirelessly to promote gender equality and empower women.

Tshering Tshomo, who is a lone woman member in the NC, said the campaign focused on issues such as women’s empowerment, education, and healthcare, and her victory has been hailed as a significant milestone for gender equality in Bhutan.

Speaking on the issue, Tshering noted that there is still much work to be done to ensure that women have equal opportunities to succeed in leadership roles. “We need to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women who want to pursue leadership positions,” she stated.

The serving MP, Karma Lhamo, said that by now there should be more women in the Parliament.

“But going by the election result, the number of women elected has decreased over the years and, sadly, the efforts of all stakeholder groups to raise awareness could not bear fruit.”

The MP said that it is a concern for all, not just women individuals but society as a whole, and all the stakeholders need to come together and check for what went wrong and how that can improve further.

Additionally, the MP said that everyone needs to think why women’s participation and the number of women elected are dropping. “I feel it’s important to have at least enough female members in the Parliament.”

The MP, Tshering Chhoden of Khar Yurung constituency said that it is disheartening to know that only a one-woman candidate out of 20 seats for NC won a seat.

The MP said, “Even though few women turn up as candidates, society mostly prefers men candidates rather than women; where voters feel males have more potential compared to females despite having the same capability.”

The MP added that if women are given a leadership position, they are far better at making decisions in any field and can contribute to better policy framing and bringing unity and harmony.

She shared that according to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, National Key Result Area (NKRA) 10 (Gender Equality), by 2030, a betting platform is set up such that in both NC and NA participants should have 50:50 for both men and women. And 2030 is not too far away.

“Currently, women’s participation in the Parliament is about 15.23%, and if the trend continues as of the NC election, then women’s representation in the parliament could come down,” she said, adding that if the trend continues, it will be hard to achieve the national goal of gender equality.

She also shared that if they want to increase the number of women at the high decision-making level, all the stakeholders, non-government organizations (NGOs), and the government need to advocate about the importance of women’s representation at the high decision-making level.

“The government should come up with a unique way forward to encourage women’s participation in parliament if they want to achieve the above key goals,” the MP said.

The former Executive Director, Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW), Phuntshok Chhoden also said that it is indeed a sad outcome in terms of women’s representation.

She shared that as a concerned citizen and professionally as someone who has been striving to make a difference in the field of women’s political empowerment specifically, “I’m heartbroken and deeply disappointed by the outcome of the 4th NC election 2023, seeing a backslide in women’s representation.”

“I’m sure everyone has followed the 89 contestants and in particular the five women who were strong, capable, experienced, committed, and passionate individuals who were looking forward to the various roles they can play in society to drive positive change,” she said.

She said that two incumbent contestants had five years of solid experience serving in the same House of Parliament and were among the best of the MPs – capable, active, and enthusiastic during their tenure from 2018-2023. “Yet, the general preference for male leaders continues to be predominant despite all our efforts to influence and transform societal mindset,” she said.

Phuntshok Chhoden also said, “From electing four women to the NC in 2008, we were left with not a single woman elected in 2013 which was a hard blow in the face of gender equality advocates. Then getting two women elected in the 3rd NC election 2018 was seen as a major indicator of progress and transformation in the minds of people which was further boosted when we saw 7 women Gups elected in the 3rd LG election in 2021.”

However, she said that the latest scenario of only five women contestants out of which only one could succeed in the 4th NC election does not bode well at all.

“This is clear evidence to prove the statement in the “Progress on SDGs: The Gender Snapshot 2022” true that “at the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality”.

“The results of 4th NC election 2023 which delivered only 1 woman NC-MP elect acts as a wake-up call or alarm bell. The time has come to respond to the pleas to institute TSMs (temporary special measures) as the deadline for Planet 50:50 by 2030 is only 7 years away,” she added.

Meanwhile, in the first Parliament of Bhutan (2008–2013), a total of 6 female candidates contested the NC elections, and four females have been elected as NC members.

Similarly, in the second Parliament of Bhutan (2013–2018), a total of five female candidates contested the NC elections, but no woman was elected as a NC member.

In a third Parliament (2018–2023), a total of six female candidates contested the NC elections, and two females were elected as members of the NC.

For the fourth Parliament of Bhutan (2023–2028), five female candidates contested the NC elections, and only a female has been elected as a member of the NC.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu