Missing in action-qualified and experienced women?

The seminar conducted by the ECB for NC aspirants saw just five women aspirants who say women should come forward and participate in the elections.

If the seminar held by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) yesterday (October 21, 2022), here, is an indication of National Council (NC) aspirants for the elections next year, political empowerment of women and emergence as leaders are not encouraging as there were only five women amongst more than 100 people who had come for the seminar.

Moreover, from the five one does not qualify due to the new requirements set by the ECB. As per records with the ECB six women had registered for the seminar. However, only five women attended the seminar. While some women may join later, the five present today shared similar aspirations, especially on the need for women to come forward and participate in the elections.

One of the participants, Dechen Lhaden, 43, from Sarpang, who worked in the National Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) since 2003 and resigned in August this year, said she is bent on contesting. Dechen, who resigned from the post of Human Resource Manager said, “With about two decades of service in NRDCL, I have finally decided to contest for the upcoming NC election,” adding that she has been thinking about it for the past few years. “I have been thinking to participate in this NC elections for the past several years,” she said.

On the ECB’s criteria of 10 years experience required, Dechen said that it is a good initiative by the ECB. She said that as NC is a review body, experience is important. “NCs will need experienced candidates as the responsibility will be challenging without experience.”

Concerning low women participation, she said that one reason could be lack of experience and qualification. She also said women are not forthcoming.

Similarly, another aspirant, Dorji Wangmo, 45, from Mongar, who also worked at the NRDCL for almost 22 years as General Manager said she decided to contest for the NC elections as politics is the platform that provides the opportunities to serve nation. “I can do several things as an elected leader which I have not been able to do now.” Further, she also said that there has been no one from her gewog who participated in the elections, so far.

“The other reason is the fact that there are still very few women elected leaders. Maybe there are more women who could not attend the seminar today, but seeing just five of us today disheartened me. I want to encourage women and send the message that there is nothing that women cannot do. I may not be able to inspire all women but even if I can do to one or two, it will make a difference,” she added.

On ECB’s criteria, she said that the ECB would not come out with rules and regulations without important reasons. “It is a very good lead since NC is the House of Review. It is not a platform to gain experience. I believe that this is also part of the transformation that the country is undergoing,” she said, reiterating that the ECB would definitely not come out with rules and regulations, which are against national interest. “Ultimately, we have to think about the country, our road towards a vibrant democracy and His Majesty’s aspirations for the nation,” she said.

Samten Zangmo, 38, from Tsirang, who is another aspirant for the NC’s post said she has always been interested. With about 12 years experience in different fields, who currently works for tourism, aspirant Samten said contesting for the NC is a “long unfulfilled dream.”

“My people has been pushing me and I am equally interested,” she said adding that since the beginning, she was eager to participate.

However, lack of qualification did not permit her to pursue her dream. “Now with my qualification and experience, I think I am ready to participate and encourage other women to come forward and serve the country and people.”

Tshering Tshomo, 38, from Zhemgang, a former teacher and a business woman is another aspirant. With almost 14 years of experience as teacher and a business women, Tshering said, “The very reason for me to participate in the NC is to represent woman and my hope to make a difference in the society.”

Tshering shared that she supports the changes made by the ECB. “It is important to have matured and seasoned candidates as the Upper House has a noble role and responsibility to take up for the benefits for the country and people.”

Meanwhile, Neelam Gurung, 29, from Sarpang, another aspirant candidate was one of those disappointed. Neelam graduated in 2017 and worked in Dubai for almost a year, after which she returned to look after her father’s fishery farm.

Neelam said that her father inspired her to participate in the upcoming fourth NC elections and that her daily interaction with people in the village people gave her some hope to participate in the upcoming election.

However, Neelam said that she is attending the seminar to confirm whether she will be allowed as she doen’t have the work experience of 10 years as per the ECB’s new rule ‘Election Conduct in the kingdom of Bhutan, 2022.’

Neelam said, “I don’t think work experience of ten years is really necessary as interacting with the people is more important than having experience,” she said, adding that she wants to encourage women to come forward and that she would support them in whatever ways possible.

Meanwhile, more than 100 people participated in the seminar for the upcoming fourth NC election that will be held next year. The seminar is an important part of the ECB’s initiative for the 2023 NC elections.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu