This talk is inspired by the two things. First, the theme of the Day – Time is Now. I thought if not now, it is as good as never. Second, for the HE for She campaign – as I have signed in this since one year. So, at the very outset I like to seek the support from all men and boys in audience that I be your voice.
Bhutan not only claims but is also recognized as one of the most gender friendly countries. This is a fact that all Bhutanese can be very proud of. But we, specially the men got to accept that we cannot afford to sleep on this DISTINCTION and stay complacent, because the reality is our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters continues to suffer from some forms of gender biased discrimination.
We want men and women to enjoy equal dignity. We want men and women to enjoy equal happiness. This is the maximum or rather the minimum a Gross National Happiness country can provide.
But the last GNH survey reports that our Women are less happy than men. We got to correct this unhappy state of our women. I believe we men can play a bigger role in this.
TIME IS NOW for HE for SHE. So, we have many daunting miles to cover before we can consciously, confidently and comfortably say that we are an equal society gender-wise.
While there can be many challenges, I shall be touching on just one. Personally I think, the biggest challenge to gender parity is our deeply rooted gender biased cultural values. We are still culturally male superior society. Gender discrimination in favour of male is inherent in our language, religion, beliefs and values.
For example, my parents generation still reminds us and our children that women are nine human lives lower than men and strings of other discriminatory values and norms such as: men should not use brooms; men should not do the dishes; men should not do laundry; men should be served first; it is okay for men to cheat; it is okay for a husband to beat his wife; but its sin for a woman to even to touch man head; wife has to serve her husband like a servant; wife has to satisfy husband’s sexual desire even if it accounts to a marital rape; it is okay for men to get drunk but not for women; men cannot baby sit; women cannot enter Goenkhang (part of temple that houses the protecting deity) ; men cannot be lead by women because men are Key Phoja (Male superiority claim) and Women are amsu morem (female inferiority submission) and so on.
Today, if we listen carefully, we can hear a boy of about just four years make gender discriminatory remarks, such as, “I am not a girl. This is girl thing.” While there is nothing wrong in these statements as these can be just plain fact, but the problem is we can hear and feel the gender discrimination in their voice when they say it – implying that anything to do with girl is lowly or second class. And most of the time, we the parents and elders don’t pay attention to such speech, not realizing that these supposedly casual everyday speeches are imbedded with strong derogatory connotation and that go on to make their value system.
So, what do we expect from these children when grown up. We reap what we sow.
But, Culture is dynamic. New values can be taught. New behavior can be learned as we have been doing so. Actually we have come a long way so much so that, today we have even husband as victims of domestic violence at the hands of wives. Therefore many a times, RENEW has to clarify that RENEW is not just for women, it is also for MEN.
But the fact is, men getting discriminated or getting harassed due to gender is insignificant comparing to that of women’s . That’s why we are is celebrating the International Women Day.
I believe, we men have to play a bigger role in this effort to bring gender parity in our family, community, country and world at large.
We men can start this CHANGE right from our own homes. We men have to shed off our disillusioned male superior ego. We have to stop taking women for granted and start treating them as equals. And lets walk that extra mile to RENEW our society. Lets start Respecting, Educating, Nurturing , Empowering Women.
For women, I believe, it is very important to be economically independent to withstand any gender biased exploitation and domestic violence. I have seen many wives imprisoned for lives in their homes and enduring daily physical and emotional harassments simply for the fact that they have no where to go and they are economically fully dependent on husband.
But the good news is we are still one of the most gender friendly countries, meaning our women are much better off than many other countries. We have many success stories to share. Thanks to the tireless efforts of RENEW, BNEW, NCWC and many other organizations and individuals.
Let me share one such story, a real story of an ordinary woman for whom I have immense respect. She stands for the values of self dignity and self esteem, which are the very basis of gender equality and also the fundamental values of human rights. I believe she was and continues to be an activist in her own ways, always standing up for these values. Had it not been for her firm belief in these values, she would have been a victim of sexual harassment at her work place. And what is not acceptable is that the perpetrator was a senior and superior to her in age and rank. He has wife and children. So he must be surely a respected father, brother, son and a good civil servant in the eyes of his family, friends and society at large. But the truth may be that he is nothing less than a wolf living in lamb’s clothing because a well educated, a civil servant, and most of all a family man cannot commit such crime to humanity.
Just imagine, this has happened to a woman who – is well educated, employed at officer level in the Government, and a mother. At that point in time, she being a recent divorcee and single made her vulnerable. So, he assumed that she was free and available. Luckily he was unlucky as she happened to be that strong woman who had all the guts and confidence to challenge upfront. I am afraid, this story may be too familiar with many men and women, with men as the perpetrators and women as victims.
I hope there are more men here in the audience who will strongly disagree with my statement that or at least agree to make these statements as things of past starting today. I say, “even today most of us the men – cannot help seeing a single woman, specially if she is economically disadvantaged, as Free and Available and waiting to pounce upon her like a tiger seeing a fresh meat after days of starvation. “
I believe Domestic violence with women as victims and taking women for granted are the two curses of the world today, unfortunately, Bhutan is no exception. I believe nothing can be more disrespectful to a woman and to your own family than this kind of attitude and behaviour. This attitude and behaviour reduces a woman to a mere object – a sex object. I believe, this is a disgrace to the humanity, that we men have not been able to shed off the law of the jungle – “might is right” and the “barbaric dirty habit” even to this day in 21st century. Honestly, we humans should be able to do better. We Men have to lead the way to bring about this CHANGE. Lets be the Change we want to see….”
First thing first. So, first we men have to TRANSFORM to TRANSFORM WOMEN’s lives. Lets live our everyday lives with HE for SHE value.
Finally in my conclusion, I would like to salute all women and particularly the woman from the story that I shared with you earlier. Most of you may think it is just another fictional story or may be the main character of my book Escapades ….Awakenings. No, I m not talking about her.
Thank you and Tashi Delek.