Strengthening women’s political participation in Bhutan
Identifying obstacles and focusing on long-term solutions to propose strategies for equal representation
Former minister Dasho Dorji Choden, the first female minister, addresses the challenges Bhutanese women politicians face before her fellow participants during the Bhutan Women Parliamentary Caucus orientation workshop held in Paro in November 2019.
The number of women elected to Parliament in Bhutan increased from 8.3 per cent in the 2013 election to 15.2 per cent in 2018—the highest percentage of women in Parliament in the country’s history. International IDEA is building on this momentum to continue its work in the country to support women in politics. In August 2019, International IDEA provided support to the Bhutan Network of Empowering Women (BNEW) and the National Commission for Women and Children from the Bhutan Women Parliamentary Caucus (BWPC).
The BWPC provides a platform for women parliamentarians and future candidates to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to promote the vision of an inclusive democracy in Bhutan. The first BWPC orientation workshop, with a theme of ‘Towards Common Understanding and Strategizing for Gender Equality in Bhutan’, was cofunded by International IDEA, the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy and the UNDP.
One major outcome of the project was the launch of the BWPC itself. It is historic that BNEW strategized and managed to make the caucus a reality within the project duration as aspired, given the prevailing mindsets and challenges in advancing the gender agenda in Bhutan.
As a result of the leadership training and workshop for the BWPC members (including male Members of Parliament), the first-time serving women MPs as well as male MPs found the space useful for networking and enhanced their knowledge and confidence. Moreover, the MPs also cited that the forum has effectively led to enriching discussion and building consensus on advocating gender-sensitive legislation.
The BWPC members are using the platform to effectively strategize and promote gender policy agenda prior to the Parliament sessions. ‘As a visible result of the capacity building and exposure provided through this project, we observed more heightened and confident voices of women parliamentarians during recent session of the Parliament in February to March 2020’, said Phuntshok Choden, executive director of the Bhutan Network of Empowering Women. ‘We noted an unprecedented gender sensitivity among male Parliamentarians too who were seen supporting positions (to enhance representation of women in Parliament) proposed by female colleagues.’
Overall, we saw a greater and active participation by women MPs in recent sessions, which can be indirectly attributed to the various inputs provided by BNEW to BWPC members.
Over the past three years, International IDEA has supported BNEW’s work to promote gender equality in the media, political parties, CSOs and various government institutions. While these efforts have led to positive changes of behaviours and relationships, Bhutan is still below both the global average of 22 per cent women in parliament and the regional average of 19.6 per cent.
‘There is a strong and continued need to create awareness on gender biases, stereotypes, norms and attitudes which are deeply entrenched in the society. Prevalent norms which maintain inequality in elections and political leadership have to be corrected.’ — Phuntshok Choden, executive director, Bhutan Network of Empowering Women
Through the Bhutan Women Parliamentary Caucus, International IDEA supports public interest groups in Bhutan to engage with representative institutions in a democratic and effective way with the aim of improving public policy and practice on women’s political participation.
Read more stories about International IDEA's results in our Annual Outcome Report 2019: Democracy In Action.