When there are no doors

The fact that Bhutan has come a long way in all spheres of development cannot be denied. Neither can the truth that women in Bhutan has made a big leap forward. And this week stands testament to it as we saw two women (excluding those in the armed forces), elevated to positions of power, leadership and responsibility.

With a woman taking over as the Dzongdag of Lhuntse, the district now has three women in positions of power. Lhuntse’s Dragpon (Judge) and head of the Royal Bhutan Police are both women.  At the pinnacle of the bureaucracy, we have four secretaries. Women also hold the reins in several other organizations.

However, when we come to the political sphere, the figures are dismal. Even after 15 years, we are yet to see more women elected to the two houses of the parliament. Political parties say that finding women ready to join politics is a herculean task. Those on the other side say that it is just the old political mantra, a “standard excuse that will continue for eons,” if concerned agencies like the election commission of Bhutan (ECB) does not do something.

But do we leave everything to the ECB?

Political parties contest to win. They want the best candidates and to get this crop, those in the capital consult their representatives at the grassroots. The so called screening process comprises of committees at different levels. Thus, the “standard excuse” is not about finding aspiring women politicians, but those who can win elections. And if everything comes from the grassroots, it means that women are sieved at that level. It boils down to saying that though there are women, there are no women who can contest and win elections.

How true is this?

Firstly, the ability to win an election depends on political parties, too. In some constituencies, a party is very strong that irrespective of the gender of a candidate, he/she will win. But do we see such parties (who say that they equally want more women) field women from these constituencies?

There are political observers who say that women are sometimes used as sacrificial lambs and that they are fielded from constituencies, where their chances of winning are less than remote. There is no fire without smoke!

Further, from the 463,040 total registered voters in the country in the 2021 local government (LG) elections, 236,836 were women and 226,203 men. In all probability, a mother will vote for a daughter and vice versa. But when there are no daughters or sisters fielded, the sons and brothers take the cake.

If we want to see more women in the august hall of the parliament, as representatives of the people, it is firstly the responsibility of the political parties and their representatives to look for aspiring women and enable them to participate in the political process directly. Let the people then decide.   

Executive Director (ED) of Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW), Phuntshok Chhoden had earlier said that politics is “an old game for men, but a fresh field for women,” and that it is not so simple for the latter to knock and enter. What we ought to do is to open the doors of opportunity for women. Today there aren’t even doors for our mothers and sisters.