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International Women’s Day in Bhutan – The fight for gender equality transcends international borders

The struggle for gender equality in Denmark dates back more than a century; in other parts of the world the fight has just begun, but what remains common across the globe is that gender equality is an urgent issue worth fighting for. The transcending character of International Women’s Day is apparent in Thimpu, Bhutan, where DIPD is co-hosting a regional conference on how to improve female representation in politics.

 

Firm determination for change

International Women’s Day symbolizes what has been achieved in regards to gender equality across the globe. And there is much to celebrate. But the 8th of March is also an opportunity to discuss what is yet to be accomplished.

This is exactly what is happening today in Thimpu, where politicians from Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan are gathered at the 2nd National Conference on Women in Governance, Leadership and Politics, co-organized by the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD). And the goal is crystal clear: the political parties express firm determination to bring more women to the forefront of politics to be given political opportunities and to take political responsibility.

As Dorji Choden, Minister of Works and Human Settlement in Bhutan, says:

“Women can no longer stand at the sideline – CSOs, Government, political parties and private companies must work together to bring positive change.”

The commitment to deliver on gender equality and bring change is reinforced by Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay:

“When you die, what happens? We believe in rebirth. Would you like to be reborn as a women or as a man? In this light we all better ensure that gender equality prevails,” says the Prime Minister.

 

The parliament of Bhutan, where only 7 percent of MP’s are women. But there is a strong will in the country for this to change.

The Danish experience

Also attending the conference in Bhutan is former Danish MP Gitte Seeberg, ready to share experiences from the Danish struggle for gender equality:

“The development has been ambiguous in Denmark, where we for example have seen a parliament without women in important councils, and where women still are underrepresented in the business world and have lower salaries than men.”

Although the fight for equality is still underway in Denmark, Gitte Seeberg believes that the experiences from Denmark can contribute to the democratic development of one of the world’s youngest democracies, Bhutan:

“It has taken Danish women 100 years to get to where we are today. It is absolutely necessary that we help women in Bhutan in  gaining the tools to move faster than we have done.”

And much suggests that Bhutan’s political development will move at a much faster pace than in Denmark. Democracy was not introduced in Bhutan until 2008. Since then the positive development of democracy has been confirmed with free parliamentary elections in 2013 and local elections in 2016.

Yeshey Choden from the People’s Democratic Party of Bhutan is encouraged by the latest elections, but there is still a long way to go – only 7 % of the elected MPs are female.

“We hope that the debate and renewed attention to gender balance on 8th March during the 2nd National Conference on Women in Governance, Leadership and Politics in Bhutan will provide a drive for more fundamental change in the future,” says Yeshey Choden.

DIPD Director Rasmus Helveg Petersen on his way to a meeting together with the leader of the political opposition in Bhutan.

Real change takes place 360 days a year

As important as the 8th of March is in creating awareness of the urgent issue of gender equality, DIPD Director, Rasmus Helveg Petersen, stressed that the day should never stand alone:

“Although it is great to be celebrating the achievements made today, it is important to remember that the real change takes place 360 days of the year.”

 


The conference on women in politics from March 8th – 11th is organized by Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW) in partnership with DIPD with participation by DIPD Director Rasmus Helveg Petersen and DIPD Senior Adviser Hanne Lund Madsen. Professor Drude Dahlerup and former MP Gitte Seeberg are also attending.

 

More information

Read more about DIPD’s partnership with Bhutan Network for Empowering Women and DIPD’s work in Myanmar and Nepal.

Contact DIPD Senior Advisor, Hanne Lund Madsen: hlm@dipd.dk

 

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