Women representation in politics increasing, albeit negligibly

As we gear up for the third parliamentary elections this year, women representation in politics stands around 14.4% presently. This is going by the 17 women candidates who have officially been declared to contest the National Assembly elections.

The 2013 elections, meanwhile, saw a drop in women’s representation to 6.9% from 13.9% in 2008. Despite half of the country’s population comprise women, numerically women remain seriously underrepresented in decision-making positions in the parliament.

The Bhutan Kuen Nyam Party (BKP) currently has five women candidates. The party, however, is endeavoring to field at least 30% women candidates.

BKP’s Secretary General Sonam Tobgay said, “BKP will continue to look for competent women candidates and offer a formidable choice. This exhibits the importance we attach towards women empowerment while taking a proactive role in society.”

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), which had three female candidates back in the 2013 elections, has five female candidates representing the party.

DNT’s Secretary General Tenzin lekphell, however, said it wasn’t about men and female candidates, but about trust and confidence of the people on the candidates.

“DNT believes in having a good mix of both male and female candidates,” he added.

Similarly, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) has five female candidates for the upcoming elections this year.

DPT’s Secretary General of Ugyen Dorji said the party would be happy if the number of the female candidates in their party was more.

However, he said, “Women do not come forward and lack confidence as a political candidate. They participate in politics and probably want to win. It also depends on the support base back in their constituency which sometimes discourages them and they don’t want to take risk.”

“There are a few constituencies still without candidates and if we come across strong candidates then we will take them in. DPT had five candidates back in 2008, five in the last elections and also five in for coming election,” he added.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has three female candidates in as of now – Lyonpo Dorji Choden, Minister for Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS), and MP Kinley Om from Bji Kar Tshog Uesu constituency in Haa. Meanwhile, MP Kesang D. Wangmo applied for resignation from the party to pursue further studies.

PDP’s Secretary General Sonam Jatso said the party is, however, trying their best to get more female candidates.

“In fact, Lyonpo Dorji Choden is personally trying to get more female candidates and is advocating on women participation. We could not even retain MP Kezang Wangmo who will resign from the party for further studies,” he said.

Besides, he also mentioned that the party already has serving MPs and there is no vacancy and that the party is unable to find female candidates where there are vacant constituencies.

“It is very difficult to get female candidates as there are no women only. Though there are handfuls of few potential female candidates, but they are engaged with constitutional posts. If our democracy was new then we would go for fresh graduate, but now the scenario is different. We are looking for matured and good experienced candidates. Less participation of women in politics is a national issue. However, over the years we are hoping to see more participation from women,” Sonam Jatso said.

Meanwhile, Bhutan’s parliament is overwhelmingly dominated by men both in the National Assembly and the National Council with women MPs from both houses numbering in single digits. The Cabinet also is no exception. Local governments are also mainly dominated by men.

In one of the winter parliament session, a proposal to reserve 30% of the 47 seats in a political party to women was proposed to be incorporated in the Election Act should it be amended. However, the National Assembly decided not to amend the act.

The government had also pledged to look into the possibilities of establishing quota for women in the parliament and the local government, but could not endorse it. The idea was floated for public debate which received mixed reactions from all walks of lives. In fact not many women liked the concept of quota system.

A former senior journalist and a freelancer now, Kesang Dema, said, “Having followed elections closely, I noticed politics is an area many would view with inhibition, be it men or women. It ultimately boils down to individual conviction and interest. But for women in particular, it is true there are challenges like the stereotyped notions in their assuming leadership roles. It is not just politics but bureaucracy, and corporate and other spheres. Going by the way things have transpired, women were deprived of role models too.”

“But recent trends are encouraging. Despite numerous problems, we had a good number of women coming forward in the last elections, including the recent NC elections. Although more is desired, we have reasonable presence of women in leadership positions that we can look up to for inspiration. At this rate, women are doing pretty well for themselves,” she added.

“So rather than intercepting with quota, which could impede the process of transforming mindsets of people towards women, improving facilities for women, like child support during campaign period for instance, would push her to go all out and exhibit her talents and capabilities. That way, women would earn trust and confidence from voters,” she further added.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu