The Election Commission of Bhutan held a two-day Consultation Meeting on Determinants of Voter’s Choice and Ways to Facilitate Women’s Participation in Elective Offices amongst the Election Commissions of South Asia from 14th -15th of October at Paro. The meeting was attended by representatives from the Election Management Bodies of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan and the various national and international stakeholders in Bhutan including representatives from the National Council, People’s Democratic Party, Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party, NCWC, RENEW, BNEW, UN Women and KCD Productions. The contribution and participation of other invitees, who unfortunately did not participate in the meeting, was missed and regretted.
The main purpose of the meeting is to share and consolidate research findings on the situation of low representation of women in elective offices, a shared area of concern, the causes for this situation, the challenges and the recommendations for the way forward, focusing on the best practices as well as what EMBs and various stakeholders can and should do in order to deepen democracy for the ultimate benefit of the People. The direct output is the formulation of an overall South Asian Report for consideration by the Fifth Meeting of FEMBoSA tentatively scheduled for 29th -30th of November 2014 immediately on the heels of the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu.
The study in Bhutan was conducted by the Election Commission of Bhutan, with support from the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIDP), UN Women, and Royal Government of Bhutan. The study included a questionnaire survey that is representative and used probability sampling techniques based on the up-to-date national Electoral Roll maintained by the ECB and designed with the technical support of the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) for the statistical aspect and consulted with other stakeholders on the questionnaire itself. Qualitative information was probed and collected through focus group discussions in all 20 Dzongkhags. Further, a social media survey was also conducted to supplement the information gathered.
While the Report when published would be shared with relevant agencies in due course of time, the findings fundamentally indicate:
- While majority of voters have a high degree of control over the decision as to whom to vote in an elections, 59% of the female respondents said that they were either influenced or inspired by their family members and friends;
- In terms of perceptions, 63% of the total respondents believed both men and women make good leaders while a significant 30.8% believe that men are better leaders and 5.9% believe that women make good leaders;
- Gender stereotypes restrict women’s participation in the electoral processes as evidenced by the finding that majority of the respondents feel that women are best suited to be teachers and very few see women being suited for elective and top positions in governance. However, the majority of respondents – both men and women – feel that there should be more women representation in the elective offices;
- The civic and voter education programme, media and the Common Forums and Public Debates are the three most effective sources of information. The least effective means of campaigning was either through campaign rallies or campaigning through posters, banners and leaflets;
- The data indicate that as compared to females, many more males are willing, have the interest and are preparing to run in future elections. It is found that fewer women, compared to men, express interest in participating in elections as candidates;
- “Chogdrup” or competence of a Candidate is the main factor that influence majority of the voters’ decision;
- There is direct relationship between level of education and perceptions related to women leadership as well as in the level of education in the rural and urban areas i.e. prejudices and stereotypes are found deeply rooted in the rural areas where the majority voters are with lower level of education and the prevailing perception is that women are less capable than men for leadership positions and matters involving public decision-making and political activities;
- Family responsibilities, lack of self-confidence and fears of incompetence in decision making were the highest quoted perceived obstacles in women standing as candidates;
- 45.9% of the total voters feel that there should be some reform or change to the present practices or systems to enable more interested women to step forward to actively participates in the electoral process and contest the elections; and
- 50.8% of the voters indicated ‘educating women’ as the best reform to enhance their participation in the electoral process, followed by the introduction of quota system (23.8%) and the reserved seats for women (13.1%) for effectively increasing the number of women representation in parliament and local governments. 12.3% feel that having simpler and straight forward electoral process and requirements will enable more women participation.
In terms of the Way Forward, the meeting resolved that common as well as country-specific measures would be proposed at the next FEMBoSA including interventions and activities that the EMBs could take up as relevant and appropriate to its mandate and others that would be put up to the States, CSOs, media and other related agencies to take up as found appropriate with a focus on sharing of best practices.
Election Commission of Bhutan