Voices of women candidates

The 26 women candidates are vouching for women empowerment and representation in all aspects of governance and polity

Bhutan lags behind when it comes to women representation in both politics and governance. Women representation in politics in Bhutan has fallen further with the most recent National Council (NC) election in April 2023, seeing only one female candidate  elected against 19 male candidates. This was a decline from two female candidates in the former NC election.

However, women candidates of different parties are undaunted and say that they have given their best. There have been minor challenges they faced but nothing which was insurmountable. Some say that they have come in to tell the women of Bhutan that there is nothing which a woman cannot do which a man can. Concerns are also expressed that if there are fewer women representing and getting elected, there would not be women willing to step into politics in the future.

Bhutan Tendrel Party’s (BTP) candidate from Kengkhar Weringla constituency, Mongar, Dorji Wangmo says that she or her party does not have a specific campaign strategy. “Our strategy is our Manifesto and our slogan, “Mimang Zhabto” and “Your Voice, Your Hope. We believe that the people’s voice should be heard and that they need some hope, too. Service delivery has to be revamped and every individual has to be economically empowered to embolden the nation. We do not have a different strategy as such,” she said.

On convincing people to vote for women, she said that the people of Bhutan are wise. “They need not be convinced. But there are some who are ignorant about the importance of having women candidates. To them, I have shared why women representatives are important. And I believe that this time they have got the message, especially in my constituency.

On challenges faced, she said that challenges are opportunities. Though there hasn’t been any specific or particular challenge as such, as some parts of the constituency has not developed at all, reaching the people is a challenge, she added.

About how people viewed a woman candidate, she said she is not in a position to speak about other women. “In my case, I have seen that my constituents, especially women are proud that they have a woman representing them. And when the woman is from one of Bhutan’s underdeveloped part, the pride is more. Many people tend to think that elections and voting is not important. Voting is a gift, a responsibility from our beloved Kings. Every eligible voter should cast their vote for the party they feel will best serve the country,” she said.

“If BTP gets the blessings of the people to form the government, we will transform the face of Bhutanese women in all areas, starting from the rural areas to urban Bhutan,” she said.

Bji-Katsho-Uesu candidate of Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT), Dawa Gyelmo said during her campaign and public debate, among other topics, she focused on the importance of women representation in politics and parliament. “Women’s political participation is a fundamental prerequisite of a genuine democracy and gender equality,” the candidate said. DTT has pledged to achieve at least 30% women representation in each of the contesting political parties during the primary election and 30 percent women representation at the local government elections.

She said that to ensure more women representation at the parliament level and politics in general, supporting women is not the only way and that women quota should be there.

Dawa has been campaigning on how women candidates could deliver and resolve women issues as women can understand women problems better than male counterparts.

The candidate says she will work to reduce gender violence, reduce pay disparity, institute gender-based recruitment system in all Government agencies. On behalf of the party, she has pledged to facilitate more ownership and property rights for women including licensing for business to women through tax breaks and institutional support. Property transfer taxes and personal income taxes to women with more than one child should be waived off and women’s business should be facilitated through skills and knowledge training. “Recognizing women and children as cross cutting issues, our party pledge to place NCWC secretariat under the Cabinet from MoESD,” she added.

She said that she campaigned in accordance with the rules, regulations and guidance provided by the Election Commission of Bhutan and focus on fairness.

Unfortunately, Dawa shared that as a woman, having to juggle between childcare and carrying out political duties including campaigns while ensuring to stay afloat financially was the most challenging part of this journey. “As a new political party, our party has limited financial base due to which we had to finance much of our campaign and travels, which was another challenge.”

In addition, not being able to reach out to all registered voters during the election campaign has been one of the biggest challenges. The reasons for that include, having to meet voters only through ECB organized common forums, increase in rural to urban and outbound migrations. The dwindling number of voters in the constituency and local villages has been another challenge.

She said public perception towards women back then was more or less prejudiced and predefined.  But Dawa Gyelmo shared her observation that public opinion about women candidates seem to have changed. “As per my personal observation and experience, women from various walks of life and age groups have come forward to show love and support for me. Since declaring my candidature, I have come across several women who thanked me for participating and representing them.”

Sonam Pelden for Bongo-Chapcha Constituency of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) shared that not just herself, she is representing as a mother, sister and daughter to whom they can rely, trust and approach. It is not for winning but for what can be done or improved.

The candidate said that she has learned a lot after listening and talking to people with empathy. With women’s empathetic and sympathetic emotions, Sonam Pelden said, more matters related to women can be brought on the table.

However, the DPT woman candidate said that challenges she faced during the campaign were finding people to sit, listen and talk to, because of their household chores.

Meanwhile, Sonam Pelden says she has observed that all folks have started to appreciate women’s participation in politics. She said, “It is a pride to join politics and fortunate to get this opportunity.” Despite this, she said women participation should increase. The candidate said that other women may not be getting support from the family and rest.

BTP’s Ugyen Dem, 30, from Khatoed-Laya constituency, Gasa said that she is representing all women. She takes contesting in election as an opportunity to work for the welfare of women and children. The candidate said it is important to listen and understand the voice of women and work towards taking them to higher levels.

40-year old Lekden Zangmo from Mikuri village, Dungmin Gewog of Pemagatshel, People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate for Khar-Yurung constituency describes herself as a strong woman. She did not face any challenges so far.  She said that the role of women in decision-making level is important for inclusive policies and plans. “Women understand about women’s issue better than men.”

Meanwhile, Tshoki Lhamo, Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa’s (DTT) candidate for Maenbi-Tsaenkhar shared that being a woman, she really had hard time, nearing to give up, saying “to represent people is not easy task.” Tshoki has a breast-feeding child. She is the first and only woman to represent the constituency or Dzongkhag till date.

Similarly, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) woman candidate from Tashichhoeling constituency under Samtse Dzongkhag, Amina Gurung shared that the people look at women with a renewed positivity now.

She said, “I do not represent as a woman for women only, but as party representative for both men and women”, advising voters to make an informed choice.

She further added that it is detrimental and crucial to have women at decision making level. “Combination of women in the decision-making level will provide a holistic decision,” she reiterated.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu