Thursday, September 16, 2010

No women, No GNH?

Tshering P. Dorji

A type of governance that considers and is receptive to gender differences is good governance. While, men and women are treated as equals and provided equal opportunities in Bhutan, socially preconceived gender differences thwart good governance.
Based on the results of Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) 2005 the National Statistics Bureau’s (NSB) population projections reveal that women constitute half the population of the country implying that they can play crucial role in the economy.
However, women’s participation towards nation building is cheerless, so the figures maintain. The civil service with 19,835 employees consists of 6,166 women which accounts for about 31% of the total. And according to the Opposition Leader, Tshering Tobgay, the civil service currently employs less than one woman for every two men.
Of the 181 executive level civil servants only eight are women with only one at the secretary level. Figures state that except for one government owned corporations the rest are all men. And of the 72 members in the parliament, only 10 are women. Further still, at the grass root level only one woman rub shoulders with 204 other gups. And worse still, we neither had a woman as a dzongdag nor a minister in the cabinet ever.
The effort thus far by the government with regard to women’s participation at the decision making level is according to most Bhutanese Bhutan Times talked to “is either lacking” or “the better halves are not interested.”
Although the Royal Government has maintained a gender neutral position in the formulation and implementation of its plans, policies and programmes, the National Plan of Action’s (NGAP) gender baseline study report revealed that while Bhutan enjoyed a generally high level of gender equality, “More subtle and indirect forms of gender bias did exist.” The study highlighted gender gaps in key areas such as higher education, national economy and political participation.
As affirmed by the Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley in his State of the Nation report 2009-2010, “My fellow subjects of the great king, we must not be passive observers passing judgments. We must directly or through our MPs play a role in correcting and changing what is unjust or inequitable,” Lyonchhen said. “Our duty is to be caring, active, participative and contribute to the making of our country into a vibrant and sustainable democracy.”
However, gender equality cannot be achieved by government alone but should be tackled by society as a whole. The formulation of approaches will need to ensure that these policies, programmes and projects are oriented to both women and men if sustainable development is to be achieved.
“I would remind that ensuring equity and justice in our society is not the sole responsibility and function of the state-it is shared in a democracy,” Lyonchhen said in his address to the nation. “As citizens of a democracy, we must always mindfully be aware that the will and actions of the leaders, and in turn, the state are reflection of the culture and will of the people.”
“To address the issue, gender responsive governance will need to be practiced and further progress required towards promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the next elections in 2013,” said Member of the Parliament (MP) Lila Pradhan. She implied that by encouraging more women to join politics it would give some diversity.
Attempting to achieve the Gross National Happiness (GNH) without conferring on in gender uniformity would increase reduce chances of acquiring GNH. “The noble concept after all is, all about contentment and contentment can only be realised when gender balance is achieved and more so at the administrative level,” Lila Pradhan said.
According to Lila Pradhan sustainable development which has been and still is the top most priority of the government can only be achieved when citizens and social structures work together to make use of the society’s utmost potentials irrespective of gender. “With good and equitable governance, sustainable human development is more easily achieved,” she said.
Attending to gender inequality will reduce poverty and enhance economic growth by increasing the productivity and efficiency of women’s contribution to the not only Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also GNH, and according to MP Karma Lhamo, it is the lack of university level education that the women in Bhutan are generally found lacking in this front.
“Addressing gender inequality is not about advancement of women’s rights but rather enabling women to make full use of their potentials and skills thus contributing towards a productive workforce for the country and thereby enhancing good governance and economic growth,” Karma Lhamo said.
It is necessary to create an enabling environment for women’s empowerment, a process that will eventually lead to greater participation in social and political processes, greater decision-making power.

Quotas have been viewed as one of the most effective affirmative actions in increasing women's political participation. There are now 77 countries with constitutional, electoral or political party quotas for women worldwide. “Minimum quota system in our country as well would be nice. It would encourage more participation,” said MP Karma Rangdol, adding that such system would also mean forgoing quality.

In a nutshell, whether it is our traditions or the failure to implement gender sensitive policies women’s political empowerment until this day was invariably fraught with challenges and difficulties and is a matter to be confronted now.

By enhancing women’s presence will make parliament more humane, more sensitive to the real concerns of the citizens by better equipping the government to respond to the needs of all sectors of society. By doing so, “Realising GNH is not distant,” the members of the parliament told Bhutan Times.

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