Your Royal Highness
Your Excellency, Prime Minister, Lyonchen (Dr.) Lotay Tshering
Honorable Lyonpos, Dashos and Aums
Partners from the Royal Government and Civil Society Organisations
Partners from Development Agencies
Members of the UN family
Ladies and gentlemen
I arrived in your beautiful country last week as the new Resident Representative of UNDP. In my previous roles, as an advocate for gender equality, I have always worked with partners in marking the International Women’s Day and therefore, it is my true honor and pleasure to deliver remarks on this very special day as my first public engagement here in Bhutan.
Across the world, the International Woman’s Day is observed to celebrate women and to acknowledge the accomplishments made to date towards gender equality. Today also presents an opportunity for all of us to renew our commitments to realizing a world that is just and fair for all women and girls.
This year’s theme of the International Women’s Day is “Think Equal, Build Smart and Innovate for Change”.
The theme aims to foster innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.
We are living in a fast-evolving world where innovation and technological advancement provide unprecedented opportunities. However, global trends indicate a growing gender digital divide and indeed, women are under-represented in the fields such as science, technology, and mathematics.
The underrepresentation of women, worldwide, means they are prevented from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovative solutions to achieve transformative gains for the society. Women need to be equal partners, and their ideas and experiences need to influence our future. Based on current trajectories, existing interventions will not suffice to achieve by 2030 a world where women and girls do not face any gender biases. Innovative approaches that disrupt “business as usual” are central to removing structural barriers and ensuring that no woman and no girl is left behind.
International Women's Day 2019 will therefore look to industry leaders, game-changing start-ups, social entrepreneurs, gender equality activists, and women innovators to examine the ways in which innovation can remove barriers and accelerate progress for gender equality, encourage investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls.
We are gathered here also to launch the first comprehensive National Survey Report on Violence Against Women and Girls initiated by the National Commission for Women and Children and UNDP. This study was made possible with generous financial support from the Government of Austria, as well as with valuable technical inputs provided by UNFPA and UNICEF. I’d like to particularly thank Dr. Henriette Jansen from UNFPA Bangkok regional office for her valuable support.
The study revealed that here in Bhutan two out of every three of women agree that “there is gender equality in Bhutan. This is very encouraging since it means that the most women think that the country is living up to what is rightly guaranteed in its Constitution which aspires to ensuring gender equality.
However, it has also been found that half or all Bhutanese women agreed that it is okay that a man hits his wife under some circumstances, such as when he finds out she is unfaithful or does not take care of the children.
The study also found that more than a quarter of Bhutanese women who were interviewed stated that they had experienced physical or sexual violence by anybody (a husband or family member or a person who is not related) at some point since they were 15 years old. If we only look at intimate partner violence: 15% of Bhutanese women stated that she had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or other intimate partner (IPV). While not all women in surveys reveal these painful experiences in a household interview, it is still considerable: in Bhutan more than 40,000 women aged 15-64 have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. This number is equal to the entire population of the Dzongkha (district) of Paro. A women’s own home is not always a safe place for her.
The intersection between violence against women and violence against children calls for greater attention, more than ever. The Study on Violence Against Children and Young People in Bhutan 2016, showed that more than 4 in 10 children aged 13–17 years experienced physical violence at home. Growing up in a violent home has important implications for child development and studies have consistently demonstrated that exposure to violence as a child is a risk factor for involvement in intimate partner violence as an adult.
These studies confirm the need for raising further awareness on violence against all vulnerable groups -children, women and girls, Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) and the support services available in the country.
On this day of International Women’s Day, UNDP reaffirms its commitment to gender equality which is at the heart of our development agenda. In close collaboration with our UN sister agencies, UNDP would like to support our partners in eliminating gender inequalities through targeted gender-focused programmes. We believe that these studies have laid an important and useful evidence-base and foundation for us to work together.
Globally, when women are economically and politically empowered, incidents of violence against women are likely to decline. Today in Bhutan, while progress has been made, there are only about 15 % representation of women in parliament. Given women represent half of the population, women’s representation in parliament continues to be a global challenge.
On the International Women’s Day, while we reflect on the many challenges and issues women face today, we also celebrate women and our collective achievements in advancing gender equality. We are celebrating the exceptional skills and outstanding contributions of Women Artisans from all over the country by inaugurating the national Textile Festival. I would like to warmly welcome all the participants and wish you all a very successful festival.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to congratulate the Royal Government of Bhutan particularly, NCWC (National Commission for Women and Children) and its partners for their persistent determination in working towards gender equality and womens’ empowerment.
My sincere gratitude also goes to Her Majesty, the President of RENEW for all the tremendous progress that the organization has made to date in respecting, empowering and nurturing women. Your leadership only reinforces the commitment from the highest level in making a difference in the lives of women and girls in Bhutan.
In closing, on behalf of UNDP, I would like to express my sincerest thanks to all our partners gathered here today for making valuable contributions to the study and taking the recommendations forward for the greater gender equality in Bhutan.
I wish everyone a very successful IWD and the textile festival. Once again, happy International Women’s Day.