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Bhutan Gains Ground on Gender Equality But Challenges Remain in Key Areas

News from Country Offices | 25 August 2014

THIMPHU, BHUTAN – Bhutan’s drive for gender equality has made good headway in recent decades but the country’s women still lag men in many areas, including in tertiary education, employment, and leadership posts in government, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

The report – The Bhutan Gender Equality Diagnostic of Selected Sectors - is the collaborative effort of ADB, Bhutan’s National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and the United Nations in Bhutan. It is the first comprehensive analysis of gender equality and women’s status in eight selected sectors. It is intended to provide a common platform to understand, plan, and initiate interventions in the eight sectors.

“Recent data on how women fare versus the men show Bhutan compares well with some, but not all, of its neighboring countries,” said Francesco Tornieri, Principal Social and Development Specialist with ADB.

The gender inequality index in the report shows that Bhutan is doing better than Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India but lags the People’s Republic of China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.

The report notes that while there is no overt discrimination in the country, women are held back by gender stereotypes and ingrained views about their role in family and society. There are also long-held assumptions that the matrilineal system of land transfers promotes gender equality. This assumption needs further analysis. The country’s famed Gross National Happiness Index also shows less satisfaction among women than men.

“The Royal Government of Bhutan has consistently emphasized the importance of mainstreaming gender in plans, policies, and programs. However, a common challenge across the sectors is, amongst others, lack of evidence, limited capacity to generate evidence and sector specific guidelines on mainstreaming gender. From this perspective, the report will immensely support the gender mainstreaming endeavor of the Royal Government,” Phintsho Choeden, Director General of the NCWC.

The country’s maternal mortality rate remains high and early pregnancy for women is a contributing factor in the gender gap in tertiary education. Unemployment rates have been higher among women than men for over a decade, particularly in urban areas, while women dominate in agricultural jobs where productivity and earnings are low. Women are poorly represented in decision-making roles in parliament and civil service. There is also tolerance for domestic violence, with a recent survey showing that nearly a quarter of all women have suffered emotional, physical, or sexual violence from husbands and partners.

The report notes that the government’s long-term strategic goal, Bhutan 2020: A Vision for Peace, Prosperity and Happiness is aiming to address gender inequality though its vision of development based on the ability of all to realize their potential; equitable sharing of the benefits of development; and opportunities for all to share in decisions that affect their lives, livelihoods, and families. To achieve this vision, Bhutan’s 11th Five-Year Plan has set targets for women in parliament and government bodies, tertiary education, and youth employment, and has also mandated government agencies to implement gender-sensitive policies and mainstream gender in their programs.