Tuesday, December 11, 2018

President of College Student Government; Making history in the election

Sherubtse College, the peak of learning as it is being referred to, wrote a history by electing the first ever WOMAN FINA president, after almost 30 years of its institution in its recent FINA president election.
FINA at the college is the highest student governing body headed by president, Vice-president and secretaries. 

I followed the success of woman leadership closely and even wrote a report for the Kitakyushu Forum for Asian Women based in Japan wherein, I am also the Foreign Correspondent, representing Bhutan. 

The report, the first of its kind I have ever written might not be up-to the standard we are used to with, but in case if you are interested to  read the story I have covered, please follow the link http://www.kfaw.or.jp/en/correspondents/report-28.html?fbclid=IwAR0JI5lX_d2zBD2LhkVq-qUn5lDecVPlBUJYvuOSUuVkd_b4Z90YdPHxgKk

My second report on Women in POkitics, which I also received an award for 'Voice and Visibility of Women' from BNEW and NCWC on the account of the 'Best Storieson Women in POlitics will be out soon on the Forum's web and in here as well. 

Thanks for the love and keep reading. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Constituents elect lone woman, out of 13 aspiring
NC candidates

-       an extensive interview with the NC elect Sonam Pelzom of Monggar Dzongkhag

How did you come up with an idea of contesting for the parliamentary election?
Bhutan’s constitution treats men and women equally and under the exemplary leadership and wisdom of our farsighted Monarchs, Bhutanese women have always enjoyed freedom and equality in all spheres of life. However, there is less woman representation in public spheres and leadership positions. That really raised my concern over the equality between women and men as a matter of human rights and a condition for social Justice. So that gave me enough confidence to come forward as an election candidate.

Would you like to share with us your story before you began the journey into the election?
I completed my bachelor degree in arts from Sherubtse College in 2011 and worked as a teacher for 3 years, in Thailand and Bhutan. Upon resigning, I started business of my own which I have lost to fire in 2017. Later, just when the race to the NC election was heating up, I lost my father but I pulled myself together and marched on stoically as it was my father’s dream of seeing me leading the people.

How did your family react on your decision?
My family, specially my late father was very happy with the decision and they were very supportive throughout my journey of election. Just before 2 weeks of his demise, my dad was accompanying me in the familiarization tour.

Did they support you enough?
My husband believes in gender equality. He would keep telling me that he doesn’t feel right keeping an educated and potential women at home. He always wanted me to do something that would make a difference, something that would bring significant impact in the society at large. It gave me enough confidence and courage in making such a big decision despite heavy responsibilities I had at home with my son just 6 months old. But my family and in-laws were very supportive, so I didn’t have to worry about the care works at all. That helped me a lot in focusing on my election trail.

Did it surprise the people in your community or was it just the normal experience?
With 155 women elected in the local government in 2016 , for last few years there has been growing recognition of women’s capabilities and talent . So people are much familiar with the women leadership compared to those olden days, yet in the beginning they were not so supportive, but as the election proceeded they saw their hope in me. I earned their confidence. After each common forum, I received calls from public extending their appreciation. Now everyone I meet tells me how much they believed in me, but when I first started there were a handful of people who believed in me. So I had to work very hard.

What can you say about the conventional notion on gender roles in your community?
Though Bhutanese women are in relatively better position compared to many neighboring countries in the region, the gender inequalities is deeply rooted in families, communities and individual mind. This affect women’s active participation and representative in public forums and decision making, especially in political field.

Tell us more about the stereotypical notion about a woman contesting for the highest level of decision making body in the country.
There still exist religious, traditional, societal and cultural perceptions towards women in various spheres of life. People believe that women are biologically inferior, thus providing men with higher platform in society both culturally and religiously. Yes, they were skeptical about my competency at the beginning but gradually as through the election race they were convinced that women can be as capable as men.

How did you manage to breakthrough all those barriers?
My strategy was to run my own race and work hard towards achieving my dream of serving the king, country and the people. So people recognized my determination and dedication towards serving the nation.

And why do you think you could serve best being in this position?
Born and brought up in the humble and sincere family and having came across many hardship while growing up, I am deeply rooted to the people of my community. So when you have so much in common with the people, you can directly connect to their heart which makes you public’s faithful and humble servant. Women represent half the population and it’s important that their perspective be brought into the political arena for a more representative democracy.

National Council is the house of review, bestowed with the highest authority in the decision making, what best describes your attributes in this position?
My strongest attributes is my determination. I take on every challenge head-on and do what I need to fulfill the aspiration of my people, to work for everyone’s best interest and give my absolute best in giving the selfless service.

You came out victory, beating the other 11 aspiring candidates, and surprisingly, they were all men. On what reasons do you think?
Despite all the challenges and obstacle, I didn’t lose myself, so people recognized my determination and dedication in serving the nation. They also made a wise choice based on pledges as they found my pledges realistic. There is also a growing recognition of the capacity and talents of women leadership.

Did the ‘win’ surprise you or were you prepared for that?
Winning and losing are very much a part of elections and thus I was prepared for any outcome. I felt participation was important to give our people a choice. I was ready to accept the people’s verdict. I also got so many calls right before the poll day from my constituents assuring their supports. At the end of the day, I was pleasantly surprised for the overwhelming support I received from all cross sections of my constituency and feel deeply privileged for the opportunities to serve.

Please share with us the challenges during your familiarizing campaigning.
Politics is not a solitary activity. You have to have a team, people around you who believe enough in you to devote time and energy. So I am thankful to my family, well-wishers, friends and supporters for their tremendous time and my constituents for the trust and confidence. They have given me enough reasons to commit myself for the greater cause of our communities and the nation. I am giving my absolute best in shouldering the responsibilities of steering our constituency to a state of true progress. There were also lots of physical strength involved as my Dzongkhag is the largest constituency with 17 Geogs. In some places due to poor road condition we had to walk for hours. Taking along my 7 months old son throughout the campaign tour was the biggest challenge but I took it as a strength rather than weakness indicating motherhood isn’t a barrier to working in a public sphere. So that even if I lose election it will have impact in enhancing the visibility of women.

There were criticisms on social media after the win, did it have any impact on you?
Stereotypical and traditionally, women are considered nurturers and caregivers in the domestic sphere of the family are still prevalent in the fabric of Bhutanese society. So people’s skepticism about my step towards serving the highest level of decision making body posed a great challenge. Some even said it was out of ‘sympathy’ that people voted for me but that gave me even more anticipation as I have greater role to play to enhance the visibility of women. I am happy, people used their franchise rightly.

What’s your first experience on, after joining the office?
The first few days were among the most memorable and overwhelming. I found myself solidifying relationship and the trust with the people by making myself available to them on phones and social media. Listening to the issues they got and taking those to the relevant agencies.

Tell us something about your set target scheduled in these five years.
One of the major roles of the national council is to act as a house of review. Most of my pledges revolve around the socio-economic areas of the country so to mention a few; Promote eco-tourism and regional tourism, review on agricultural policy, looking into substance abuse and youth unemployment issues, women’s under representation in politics, amendment of minerals and mines management act, and reviewing education act and central school policy.

What would you like to comment on ‘Women’s participation’ in policy and decision making in Bhutan?
Despite gender neutral policies and legislation providing equal opportunities to men and women, women’s participation, particularly in the decision making level in almost all the sectors of development is significantly low. The political climate as it exist today continues to be male dominated and is therefore perceived to be conducive to male participation. So Bhutan is yet to understand and realize equality beyond gender neutrality. Equality is not about treating everyone in the same way but, recognizing that their needs are met in different way. Thus it’s not adequate to have gender neutral laws and policies on paper but they have to be translated to gender sensitive programs and action plans.

What would you like to recommend our women?
Bhutan’s developmental philosophy, Gross National Happiness upholds strong principles of equality for all human beings, human rights and responsibilities. In addition Buddhist values inherent in the fabric of Bhutanese society place women in a relatively better position compared with many neighboring countries in the region. So I would like to urge the women of Bhutan to come forward in making important decisions and act on them. Furthermore one must acquire empowerment by themselves rather than have it given to them by an external party.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to NC elect Sonam Pelzom of Mongar Dzongkhag for sparing us her precious time for this interview. 
We also wish the NC elect a successful tenure.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Celebrating Menstruation

The body’s process which allows for the conception of children, shouldn’t it be celebrated?
Ofcourse, yes!

But for a disturbingly large amount of world’s female population, the few days every month is a ‘big shame.’ For no reason, this group of people is subjected to being stereotyped, ignored, ostracized, or humiliated by families and communities.
Menstrual Hygiene Awareness Day was created by the German-based organization NGO WASH United in 2014 to normalize the actions of menstruation and the importance of access to hygiene. The cause is being supported by 270 global partners. Bhutan is one among them.
If you have afforded to spend some time watching ‘Padman,’ a Bollywood film starring Superstar Akshay Kumar, the whole essence of shame associated with menstruation in most of the countries is very clear. It's not in India that Menstruation is being associated with such shame and alienation. The fact that this day's being observed worldwide, we can't agree more that menstruation as a 'taboo' is almost everywhere. 
Even though it isn’t as serious in Bhutan as in some of the regions, the social stigma and with menstruation is still a concern. The cultural and religious perspective on menstruation is beyond the understanding of a common brain, and have been socially accepted. But this acceptance has eventually created more gap in the understanding of menstruation. Because those menstruating are restricted in few places, it has been implied to the worst of things, even during the normal days of their lives.
Aren’t we generalizing things?

During the youthful days then, it’s a very common scene to come across women/girls menstruating; in the classrooms, homes, while at work. And men would go whispering on each other’s ear putting her to embarrassment. Sanitary pads were non-existent those days and women/girls would use old dirty clothes in an effort to cover it. Or what else would they do?
But time has changed and it’s no longer 1970s or early 2000, where social stigma were rampant, but not anymore.
It’s the right of the girls/women to have proper access for a healthy menstrual period, but with social stigma and ostracizing it’s not at all achievable.

So, stand up for this cause and pledge to support our sisters, mothers, siblings, friends and neighbor not out of any emotion, but because it's just a body's natural process and that they deserve to have access to hygienic menstrual days. 

Let Menstruation be no more 'shame.' 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Girls with DREAMS become women with VISION!!

This is a general misconception of almost all the men today that 'women' belong in the kitchen and in the house. They are expected to look after the kids, cook for family, prepare the kids to school, and things alike. Women have been understood and looked at as housewives first and nothing more than that. But I believe that they deserve to be looked at differently and considered 'Human' first. I think this consideration will somehow waive off some misconceptions about them. I believe this will give us room for considerable argument with ourselves as to why women should be treated 'equal' oand 'same.'

While I strongly believe that men should treat women same and equal, it's equally important for women themselves to stand up for this right; right to be treated same and equal. Oftentimes, women tend to present themselves as feeble and inferior. Perhaps this might be because of the societal bringing or exposure but the majority of women, knowingly or unknowingly, tend to show their inferior self in their daily expressions.
'Come on man, I am a girl, don't you dare let me do this,' or 'Don't you see I am the only girl here?'

We hear this sort of talk almost everywhere and every occasion. Even in the public forum, the similar kind of scenarios are very common. 'What they will think of me speak about this?' 'I don't think I am the right person to bring this issue up.'

I have come across a lot of women talk like this and every time I say the same thing that at times women in a way or the other tend to show their inferior self, the stereotypical sort of comments. Or else this explains a lot more things, that still lots of awareness, education and sensitization has to be put in place.
Paeday, a woman in her early 20s agrees with this and believes that it may be due to the environment we are brought up in and the total new era of 'gender equality' that we are talking about. And others like Kezang Dema thinks that it's a social norm, something that the society wants them to be.

But men and women, generally do think that otherwise, every woman is the architecture of the better version of the world tomorrow, because 'girls with dreams become the women of vision.'

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Of Eve Teasing

Chogyel Wangmo, 32, stood in front of the Bhutan Gate in Phuntsholing, shocked and vulnerable. She was returning from a trip to Kalimpong with her friends, when as soon as she entered Bhutan, she felt an all familiar apprehension as a group of men, pulled over their car near her, and sneered at her.

At first she thought, she knew them but after a careful scan, she didn’t find any familiar faces amongst them. Irate and scared, she helplessly dashed away from the dark alley to the nearest place that was well lit. It wasn’t the first time she was catcalled; however, she was utterly disappointed that it happened the moment she stepped into her own country.

Chogyel didn’t like feeling helpless about the situation and wondered if there is there is anything she could do.

Catcalling/eve teasing is a shout, whistle or a comment of a sexual nature usually made towards women. In Bhutan, catcalling is a huge issue for almost all the women in the country, however, there hasn’t been a single case reported to the police station yet. Polls taken on Social Media say that 70 % of the women have faced catcalling.

The Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 considers eve teasing as offenses violating public order and tranquility, which means even if a case of eve teasing gets reported, “the convicted defendant shall not be imprisoned but shall be fined the daily minimum national wage rate up to a maximum of 90 days.”

Kunzang 25, felt helpless along with his sister whenever they walked together and she was teased. “I feel infuriated but there hasn’t been much I could do for my sister,” he said. “I worry men could get into bigger fights if we continue jeering at each other’s sisters.”

Pema Tshomo, 26, is school counselor and believes that the problem isn’t just with the men. “We talk a lot about changing men and their behavior but women should change too. Instead of being a back-voice and complaining, we should stand tall and voice out,” she said. “Eve-teasing can become dangerous if ignored, so it has to stop.”

When googling sexual harassment in Bhutan, the first article that comes up is a blogpost by our Prime Minister written in 2012, sharing his wife’s and daughter’s bitter experience with eve teasing. In the post, he admits, “Eve-teasing in Thimphu is not just offensive and hurtful-it’s dangerous. They (his wife and daughter), decided, wisely that, even in the middle of the day, Thimphu’s roads are not safe for women.”

This issue seems non-discriminatory in the sense that it hurts everybody from all walks of life, however, it is mostly women, who are on the receiving end of this unwelcome crude misconduct. 

By: Karma Kuenzang Wangdi 

See also: Ngawang P. Phuntsho’s article on eve-teasing

The above piece is our trial at reporting an issue through the gender lens, during the Gender Sensitive Reporting exercise. We chose this issue, but our focus was being neutral and avoiding using words, phrases or indications of being gender-insensitive. With due permission from my fellow group-mates I publish this in my blog

Fellow contributors: 
Choney Seldon, Kinley Jamphel, Thinley Choda, Pema Youden, Leela Raika, Jigme Sherab. 
Originally posted here

President of College Student Government; Making history in the election

Sherubtse College, the peak of learning as it is being referred to, wrote a history by electing the first ever WOMAN FINA president, after ...