Still a long way to go for women in politics

The Election Commissions of Bhutan’s (ECB) seminar held yesterday (October 21, 2022) for aspiring National Council (NC) elections was a blow to multiple initiatives that have been undertaken by different agencies to increase the number of women participating in the elections. From more than 100 people at the seminar there were only five females. The ECB said that six women have registered.

Though there is time for more women to join and compete in the forthcoming elections that would be held next year, sources from around the country say “it is an unlikely scenario.” Observers will say that it is not new. The 2018 NC elections saw just seven women contesting of which two won. Others will point their fingers to the ECB’s new criteria.

According to the statistical yearbook of Bhutan 2021, there are 346,692 women and 380,453 men in Bhutan. Of this, 249,907 are men who are 20 and older. The number of women older than 20 is 219,535. While anyone above 18-years of age can vote, the above figures indicate that the difference between women and men who are eligible to vote is not huge. Additionally, in the 2018 general elections for the National Assembly, female voters outnumbered male voters, though marginally. Of the 313,473 voters, 50.8 per cent were women.

There would also be people saying that the NC elections is a tough one; in that one has to scout the entire district and for districts like Mongar, Samtse and Trashigang it is a herculean task. Unlike political parties, NC aspirants do not have workers at the ground. The campaign period especially for new aspirants is short. While incumbent parliamentarians can move around new aspirants have to follow the ECB’s say. Finance is another challenge. And the notion that politics is for men is still prevalent. The accumulation of all these factors may be preventing women from joining politics.

Mandated to strengthen Bhutan’s infant democracy, the ECB is also confronted with challenges, a primary one being the number of women contesting in the political parties and getting represented in the parliament, as well as the local government. In this context the Chief Election Commissioner had earlier pointed out the need for a “Leap-Frog” mechanism in bringing more women into the electoral process as candidates, who can then get elected.

While the Bhutanese electorate has also matured both in thought and conduct, it is more important for women voters to mature.

If one goes around talking about women in politics, there will be absolute unanimity that women should be supported. With the elections near, there is nothing much that the ECB can do. CSOs like Bhutan Network for Empowerment of Women (BNEW) and the people can play a role here. If political parties and women leaders are serious that Bhutan’s representation of women in the parliament has to increase, all they need to do is support this.

For once, let’s walk the talk!