With Bhutan polls slated to be held on October 18, both Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and newcomer Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) in Bhutan are trying to woo voters hard.
But the disheartening thing about the Bhutan polls is women participation has remained dismal since the beginning of elections in 2008. In 2008 polls, there were only ten female candidates. Four women were elected then.
In 2013, eleven women made it to the general round, but only three became members of parliament.
In 2018 polls, among the 94 candidates competing for 47 seats in the National Assembly only ten are women, between the two parties. Among those ten women, six won their constituencies and four primary winners are still in the election race. If all the women are elected, there will be nine women in the National Assembly (two women are contesting from the same constituency).
This trend is worrying for a democratic country with around 50 per cent of the population being women.
The Bhutan parliament is overwhelmingly dominated by men both in the National Assembly and the National Council. There is only 11 per cent women elected in parliament due to low support from their parties and other voters.
Phuntshok Chhoden, the Executive Director of Bhutan Network for Empowering Women, is of the opinion that the deeply entrenched societal, cultural and traditional beliefs, stereotypes and norms surrounding gender roles are the main reasons why making headway in terms of women participation in elections remains a daunting task.
The Bhutanese government did, through a consultative process, try to push for 20 percent quota for women in all elected offices recently, but found little support.
BNEW’s Executive Director Chhoden, is mentoring and nurturing women to build leadership capacity and skills for women to be able to represent in politics. A balanced women representation in Parliament or Cabinet will make them more sensitive to women and children’s issue and also will lead to a healthy democracy.
A lot needs to be done to create a conducive environment for women and the effort has to come not just from the government but also from relevant agencies. Most political parties have been high on rhetoric and low on output in terms of women candidates.
The BNEW’s Executive Director thinks the elected women leaders’ good performance can go a long way in changing the society’s attitude towards women in leadership positions.
In spite of advancement of women in education and participation in the paid economy, they have yet to make a decent representation in national politics. Women continue to remain invisible and marginalized in decision-making bodies.
Bhutan for its own sake must consider the issue of women’s reservation of seats in electoral bodies for a more representative, strong democracy.
For now, it is certain that there are more male participants than female in the national politics. Whether this trend changes in the coming years or not that remains to be seen.