SONAM PENJOR | Thimphu
Bhutan has always maintained a non-discriminatory approach to development which is enshrined in the Constitution of Kingdom of Bhutan, wherein fundamental rights and duties mandate every Bhutanese not to tolerate any form of violence against women.
The principles of state policies also intend and guide actions to eliminate discrimination against women and children.
According to the State of the Nation Report, 2022, “The wellbeing of our women, children and other vulnerable groups continue to remain at the heart of Bhutan’s development agenda.”
It states that the country has made huge strides in women’s participation at decision making in both political and public spheres, women and girls’ access to health services, participation in schools, training institutes and formal employment, initiatives to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV), and women’s access to conducive space and work environment.
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.
However, the state of the nation report states that there are opportunities to leverage on the progress and achievement made thus far with concerted efforts, strong political will, adequate budget, and increasing awareness.
The report states crosscutting and evolving nature of gender, child, and other social issues calls for a multisectoral, unified approach to address these issues.
The country has made noteworthy achievements like gender equality, inclusion, and diversity; international obligation; national child policy and action plan; responding to issues related to women and children, and childcare support.
Further the country also made achievements in terms of preventing gender-based violence and violence against children; services for women and children; political empowerment of women and research, assessment, and studies.
It states that an individual with diverse gender identities, expression, and sexual orientations are often subject to prejudices that are rooted in entrenched beliefs and traditions. They have been exposed to various forms of discrimination and violence in many social circles.
In 2020, the National Assembly decriminalised two sections on unnatural sex (Section 213 and 214) in the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB).
Section 213 of PCB, 2004 states; “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.”
In addition, section 214 of PCB states, “The offence of unnatural sex shall be a petty misdemeanour.”
The state of the nation report says that 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.
It states that the revised policy would 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 would be finalised by the end of this year for implementation. A national plan of action for gender equality is also being developed,” it states.
Capacity building on mainstreaming gender and LGBT+ perspectives were carried out in the private sector towards institutionalising an inclusive, healthier, and equal work environment, states the report.
Further, 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 behaviour and practices towards PWD.
The national child policy is in the final stage of completion. Once endorsed, the report states that the policy would ensure a systematic and coordinated approach to preventing and responding to issues faced by children.
“It would 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).”
The formulation of the national plan of action for child protection and wellbeing is under process to ensure effective implementation of the policy, secure resources, forge stronger partnerships, ownership, and accountability among the government and non-government stakeholders.
The report further states that 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.
The SOP would serve as a guiding document for institutions and individuals working with children to provide efficient services in line with the minimum standards, it states.
Further, the SOP for dealing with children in conflict with the law was reviewed to streamline interventions on child justice and advise the national steering committee on child justice related issues.
“To prevent and protect children during their involvement with an organisation or agency, an internal child safeguarding policy was developed,” it states.
It also states that the country continues to provide services for survivors through the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and civil society organizations (CSOs) like Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) and Nazhoen Lamtoen.
To streamline services and institutionalise case management as essential services across the country, it states that the NCWC has developed SOPs, carried out capacity-building programs for case managers, counsellors, and other service providers among others.