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Low self esteem prevent women in Bhutan from participating in politics: study

Oct 19, 2012

According to a new study, factors like household duties and low self esteem, have prevented women in Bhutan from participating in politics.

Household responsibilities, low self-esteem, illiteracy, fewer role models and lower expectations prevent Bhutanese women from actively participating in local politics, according to the some of the findings of a new study released by NCWC with support of UNWomen in Thimpu.

Commissioned by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), the report, ‘Women in Politics: Status of Women’s Political Participation in Bhutan’, is based on a survey with 822 women and 714 men in rural and urban areas of Bhutan during June and July 2011.

According to the study, Bhutanese women have fourteen per cent representation in Parliament and seven per cent at the local government level. The report also finds that a majority of women (57 per cent) are interested to join politics. They are, however, held back by constraining factors such as lack of education and training as well as limited involvement and skills in decision-making. They also suffer from low self-esteem and poor-self image, and have to carry the burden of being a housewife, mother and provider.

According to the study overall 61.7 per cent of those surveyed felt that the burden of being a mother, domestic work and income generation prevented women for participating in public life. Notably 42.7 per cent felt that women have lower expectations of their leadership capability in politics as around 38 per cent saw leadership and politics as a masculine activity.

“About 79 per cent agreed that women can participate as voters as well as tshogpas, mangmis and gups and almost 48 per cent believed that attitudes and stereotypes against women constrain their participation in public life, particularly in leadership positions,” the study said.

The study also revealed that about 51 per cent people perceived women as ‘passive participants’ in decision-making whether at home, in the village or at the gewog (block) level and 67 per cent believed that illiteracy or lower educational level was a major barrier to women’s participation.

“Around 45 per cent agreed not having many role models for women to look up to, adversely affecting women’s participation in the public life,” the study said.

Bhutan has in place an adequate election system with fairness of the electoral process at the local levels being at a commendable level. However, the system needs to have inbuilt mechanisms to motivate women’s participation in local polls.

“Specific laws or policies can also strengthen the political empowerment of women. Evidence from other countries shows that special temporary measures and mandatory positions for women can also make a difference,” said Stenhammer.

The report recommended long-term programmes to improve attitudes about women’s role in public life accompanied with the financial support for women candidates, especially in local elections. The study also emphasised on the special leadership training for women interested in politics/

The study advocated support for elected women representatives to achieve their targets apart from formulating non-formal education and gender sensitive plans to empower women.

“United Nations in Bhutan are working together with the Royal Government of Bhutan to encourage more women to join politics,” said Anne F Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UN Women South Asia. Under the project, ‘Inspiring Bhutanese Girls: Creating A New Generation of Leaders’, a series of nationwide regional leadership youth workshops were held to encourage young women to join politics.

The study was launched in the presence of Claire Van der Vaeren, the UN Resident Coordinator of Bhutan; Anne F Stenhammer, the Regional Programme Director, UN Women South Asia.

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