Politics versus women

And even when women run for political office and that they are just as likely as men to be elected, the main reason they are so underrepresented is that they don’t run in the first place

When Karma Lhamo, then 27, decided to join politics back in 2008, it was a decision she believes was made on time. The motive for her to join politics and run for election back then was to set an example for Bhutanese women and also because there were less participation from women then. This will be her third time participating in the election from Monggar constituency in Monggar for Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). She won in the first elections, but lost in 2013.

She said there is nothing a woman cannot do compared to the male counterparts except when it comes to physical strength. “Women should come forward to participate,” she added.

Dr. Dechen Wangmo, an aspiring political candidate representing Druk Nymrup Tshogpa (DNT) from North Thimphu, said there are many factors that limit women from taking part in politics such as the existence of social and cultural biases against women in leadership position. “There are no enabling policies and support from the political institution to promote women participation and the institution of democracy must be strengthened so that people feels proud to be associated with,” she said.

Her joining politics is to build a vibrant institution of democracy so that they are able to pass on the sacred gift from His Majesty to the future generation by providing a choice to the people of Bhutan.

Out of 188 people who will represent the 47 constituencies from four political parties in the primary election for the National Assembly, 19 are women. Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) has seven women candidates, DPT has five, DNT has five and PDP two. Less participation from women can solely be attributed to women being the biggest self-doubters.

Leela Pradhan, 54 and one of the veteran female politicians from DPT and of Ugyentse-Yoeseltse constituency in Samtse, said she was not keen in politics before and as a woman she had no confidence to come forward. But encouragement from people in her constituency, relatives and family members gave her the confidence to participate. She said such encouragement attributes to participation.

Chador Wangmo, 31 years old and the Drujeygang-Tseza candidate of BKP, who also contested in the National Council election, said women do not have confidence within themselves and she feels that it is time that such notion should change.

“Being a woman, you are attacked personally and your character is questioned. Maybe due to which women fear to come forward,” she said.

The issue of women not forthcoming when it comes to politics can be attributed to various factors, but the last two elections have proved that women participation has not been accepted well by the voters. The number of women participation in the primary election has dropped to 19 from 31 in 2013.

And even when women run for political office and that they are just as likely as men to be elected, the main reason they are so underrepresented is that they don’t run in the first place.

Talking to some of the people on why women don’t come forward to participate in elections, Sonam Tshering, a faculty of law with the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, said, “I think one of the reasons is that, universally power and politics is man’s subject. Men generally discuss politics and power much more than women. Women generally do not discuss politics in their casual conversation as much as men do. Therefore, women may not be having much interest to join too. Second, in the last two elections, women representatives are still yet do enough to convince other women to join politics.”

He added, “However, it also sets extra mandates for the current serving women politicians to demonstrate and convince the voters specially women voters to elect more women into politics. Women politicians must perform more than their basic mandate as it also requires the society to shift its men dominated mindset to women as choice of better politicians.”

“Equal opportunities offered refer to a general term. It is liberally used in speeches but how many of the women are actually free to grab these opportunities? Women are still tied with the duties they have been bestowed upon since the human civilization began. First we need to break that “specific role”. Women themselves need to break free from the invisible chain of “caregiver” first,” Author Chador Wangmo said.

Tara Limbu, a freelance journalist currently pursuing her masters in Australia said, “The opportunities are seemingly equal. But, it isn’t so. I have seen intelligent and capable women being denied managerial positions because they are women. It even happens in media houses that are supposed to champion equality. The gender discrimination is subtle. We are used so seeing blatant gender discrimination and violence in our neighboring countries which is why I think the subtleness eludes us.”

She also mentioned that the other reason, she thinks, is the mental block. “We haven’t seen many Bhutanese women leaders. As a result, for many Bhutanese, the idea of leadership is men-oriented,” she said.

Sonam Ugyen, a former journalist of Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS), said, “The reason for not many women coming forward to join politics mainly is because we are still a male dominated country. Women are still expected to take up household chores – which by the way is extra for the women. In most cases, even both wife and husband earn equally, once at home the husband would settle himself on the sofa and watch TV while the wife starts doing chores. Most women in our country are smothering their talents, skills and knowledge as soon as they get married or babies. And the reason is both men and women. Women themselves don’t want to go further after sometime. They would be rather happy to leave the jobs.”

Diksha Gurung, a teacher in Tenzin Higher Secondary School in Paro said, “Women should not wait for things to happen or change and let people watch you. Don’t worry about the results, just step forward and make the change.”

Rabi C Dahal, a freelance journalist, said, “Women who have secured jobs don’t want to lose it and I think we didn’t set a good precedent in the first election as not many women participated. There were no roads, campaigning was difficult for them. The people perceived that politics meant for men. We also look at neighboring countries – politics means netas, Men netas. And in the recent elections not many women were elected. So women fear and they have preconceived notion that they won’t get votes, so not many come forth. So I say blame the first parliament or those two parties who took part in the first elections.”

Samten Yeshi, Cultural Researcher with Loden Foundation said, “We need to focus on changing the cultural attitude of women towards confidence building. Our gender focus seems to be stronger into changing their habits to men’s instead of building their self esteem and confidence. Our gender focus, I mean, our women empowerment.”

“While what is needed in women empowerment is confidence building, we are stronger into changing women’s habit into men’s. I would rather say, we seems to achieve in changing the traditional habits of women in the process of women empowerment but there are still a lot to be done in confidence building of our women to come forward to step in to the platforms provided on equal footing,” he added.

It is also assumed that the political parties are looking out for high profile women candidates (executive levels) and those in that position don’t want to take risks.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu