It is an honour, privilege and more importantly an opportunity to join all of you to celebrate and to pay our respects to the great women of our society. Empowering women is a necessity for gender equality. Societies where women are given equal respect and love flourish economically and socially. I am humbled to be speaking here today in the presence of Her Royal Highness who is a gender champion and constantly guides the country in pursuing gender equality. More so, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Your Highness for steering the Bhutan National Legal Institute as a President in developing the capacities of legal personnel through gender sensitive judicial and legal education.
Today we are gathered here to observe this very important day, International Day for Women with the global theme “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. The day comes at the time when the world has seen unprecedented movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. The past year saw strong demand for a future that is more equal using various platform to raise the concern; from global marches to numerous campaigns. The media and public discourse on sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women has captured the attention of the world. The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report tells us that the gender gap will not close until 2186, which is almost 200 years from now. So we cannot be complacent. Now, more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action for gender parity. Ladies and Gentlemen, the “Time is Now” for action.
In Bhutan, we are blessed by the visionary guardians; our beloved monarchs who shower equal love for all his subjects. Our kings laid the foundation in the form of non-discriminatory legislations and policies that provides an environment for equality to flourish between men and women, boys and girls, old and young, rich and poor. Personally, I would like to pay my sincere homage to Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck; a silent activist transforming the lives of women in Bhutan. Her Majesty is physically not present today to grace the occasion but her blessings and good wishes are always with us. We thank your majesty for all the interventions on women’s empowerment and social development in Bhutan.
Despite the fact, that our unsung heroes, activists and organizations, are working tirelessly to change the country, there are some areas where we need to push further and faster to realize the visions of our kings and achieve national and international development goals.
Firstly, women in decision making; in the the judiciary, legislature, civil service, civil society, corporate and private sector has been very low. Going by statistics, only around one in every ten Parliamentarians (8.3 %), Local Government members (11.6 %) and Executives (10 %) are female. This is happening despite various initiatives like the National Plan of Action for Gender Equality in Elected Offices, crèche facilities at workplace, increase in paternity benefits to name a few. I want to make it clear that it is not women that we see as beneficiaries from women’s participation in decision making but governance and the society at large will benefit from women’s wisdom and experience. It will bring equality in representation and we believe women’s voices will be heard stronger and clearer.
Another issue that I would like to highlight today is divorce. Agencies like the NCWC, RENEW and its partners are established not to encourage separation and divorce. We are here to make men, women, boys and girls understand each other better, resolve misunderstandings and encourage good family life. Therefore, I would like to urge all to take the responsibility to facilitate families that need guidance and support to the relevant organizations, so that they can be provided with proper advice and guidance. Divorce as we all know leads to single parents and this again we all know has a separate set of problems and burdens, which can impact the growth and development of our children. Having said this, I would like to remind that violence against women is not at all an option for solving social issues and the Royal Government as evident through the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013 and implementing agencies will not tolerate any forms of violence against women. The worrying fact is that still seven in ten women (74%) accepts violence in different forms.
Another problem that is affecting the lives of women and their family is the opportunity for them being employed and economically contributing to the society. The unemployment figures show that 3.1 percent of the female are unemployed compared to 1.8 percent of their male counterparts. The Royal Government recognizing the issue has started number of initiatives to solve the problem. Amongst many, the NCWC with the support of ADB and in collaboration with BAOWE, Tarayana Foundation and READ Bhutan has established around 20 Self Help Groups (SHGs) with majority female members. We agree that there is a long way to resolve the problem but steps have been taken. Investing in women’s economic empowerment has many benefits like poverty eradication, inclusive growth and achieving gender equality. However, we do need to recognize that our women make numerous contribution to the economy, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home (which most of the time goes unacknowledged)
Let me ask a general question: Do you encourage your daughters to study? Or Do you encourage them to marry? Do you know there is a legal age for marriage? And more importantly do you know marrying early is indirectly depriving an individual of larger opportunities. Studies and assessments across the world, indicate and prove that early marriage contributes to dropping out from schools, teenage pregnancy, health issues, domestic violence, divorce and single parenting. It in the long term can also hamper child development. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that early marriage is an ill that can lead to various social diseases.
While we celebrate International Day for Women, I am sure even men and boys also treat this day equally important. Women – as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter amongst many other manifestations support the growth and development of every society. In fact, this single day is way too concise to appreciate what women are capable of both at the personal and professional levels. There is no limit to the work or efforts that a woman can put forward for her own progress as well as the progress of the people around her. Towards this end, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our partners and champions; Tarayana Foundation, RENEW, BNEW, BAOWE and other CSOs working towards gender equality and the Gender Focal Points in the ministries/agencies and Dzongkhags who passionately work in mainstreaming gender into various plans, policies and programs.
Lastly, I hope that the messages from today’s gathering are taken seriously and I urge you to disseminate the information to everyone you come across. Changing one life has the potential to change one community, and changing one community will change the nation. You have the opportunity, you can make a difference and the right time is “NOW”.
I would like to express my humble appreciation to Her Majesty for gracing the occasion and providing the inspiration towards uplifting women in Bhutan and I would like to thank all the distinguished guests for your presence to celebrate our women.