Enhancing women and children’s rights

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering

From the Prime Minister’s State of Nation’s report, 2022

The wellbeing of women, children and other vulnerable groups continue to remain at the heart of Bhutan’s development agenda and has always maintained a non-discriminatory approach to development. 

Presenting the State of the Nation report on 8 November during the winter session of the parliament, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering stated that significant efforts have been made towards ensuring children’s participation in nation building, enhancing their wellbeing, and protection and building their skills to become productive citizens.

PM said this is enshrined in the constitution wherein fundamental rights and duties mandate every Bhutanese not to tolerate any form of violence against women. The report stated that the principles of state policies intend and guide actions to eliminate discrimination against women and children.

On gender equality, inclusion and diversity, in 2020 the National Assembly decriminalized two sections on unnatural sex (Section 213 and 214) in the Penal Code of Bhutan. It is a significant move indicative of the progress Bhutan is making in recognising the needs of our LGBT+ community.

Additionally, to include their differential needs, the National Gender Equality Policy 2020 is being reviewed to integrate LGBT+ perspectives.

The revised policy will provide an effective framework within which legislations, policies, programs, and practices will ensure equal rights, opportunities, and benefits to all individuals, in their communities, workplaces, and society at large. The policy will be finalized by the end of this year for implementation. A national plan of action for gender equality is also being developed.

Capacity building on mainstreaming gender and LGBT were also carried out in the private sector towards institutionalizing an inclusive, healthier, and equal work environment.

A disability equality training, a participatory process where participants are introduced to real life issues and discrimination faced by persons with disabilities (PWD), was also carried out for the private sector with an objective to change their perspectives and practices towards PWD.

Bhutan has prepared and submitted the 10th periodic report on the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to the UN CEDAW committee. The report focused on 24 advanced lists of issues spanning across 16 different areas of concern.

Further, Bhutan participated virtually at the seventh International Day of Women and girls in STEM assembly. The assembly aims to recognize the role of women and girls in science, not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change to accelerate progress towards achievement of sustainable development goal (SDG) 6.

The report stated that the national child policy is in the final stage of completion and will ensure a systematic and coordinated approach to preventing and responding to issues faced by children once endorsed. It will provide an overarching policy framework for upholding and protecting the rights and dignity of children in Bhutan, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

To respond to issues related to women and children, the standard operating procedure (SOP) on child protection case management and children in difficult circumstances was developed with support from the key child protection partner institutions.

Guidelines for selected nationally determined contribution (NDC) sectors of agriculture, energy, waste, biodiversity, ecology, and food security were drafted to guide the gender focal person and relevant officials in mainstreaming gender perspectives into their sectoral plans, policies, and programs.

It is reported that to prevent gender-based violence and violence against children, a pilot project Gakey Lamtoen was implemented at Babesa school and a larger scale pilot of the project has been carried out in three schools and communities.

The Pema Centre is another important establishment that will accord priority in making societies safe for women and providing appropriate resources in particular to women who are subject to domestic violence and sexual abuse.

For childcare support, six additional workplace creches were established bringing the total creche services to 28.

In addition, services for women and children are continuously provided for survivors through the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and CSOs like RENEW and Nazhoen Lamtoen.

For political empowerment of women, targeted capacity building and mentoring programs were carried out for aspiring women leaders in collaboration with Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW) in preparation for the third local government elections.

Women’s representation in local government increased from 11.6 percent in 2016 to 12.6 percent in 2022 and the number of female gups increased from two to seven according to the report.