Consensus Building Workshop for Royal Bhutan Police officers

May 21, 2018

The RENEW Executive Director with the Additional Chief of Police at the Consensus Building Workshop for the Royal Bhutan Police Officers

Remarks by Niamh Collier-Smith, UNDP Resident Representative a.i.

Additional Chief, Col. Ninda Wangdi, Executive Director of RENEW, Aum Tandin Wangmo, CBSS Volunteers, RENEW staff, Facilitators from the Bhutan National Legal Institute and the JSW School of Law, Officials from NCWC, and most importantly, representatives of the Royal Bhutan Police.

It is my real pleasure to join you all today to discuss the role of the police in tackling difficult domestic violence situations.

Before I focus on why we are here, I would like to join with the other speakers on commending the excellent work of the partners joined together today.

First, permit me to congratulate RENEW for your commitment to forging a better understanding of violence against women and children, and trying to stop it

The leadership of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck on this issue is truly remarkable, and we feel privileged at the United Nations that she has chosen to be a Good Will Ambassador for UNFPA, keeping the fight against violence firmly in the public eye.

I would like to commend the work of the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and Royal Bhutan Police for creating the environment that enables us to meet here today and openly talk about this problem. You are at the frontline of preventing crime in Bhutan, including domestic violence, and your role is deeply appreciated.

Thanks also goes to the Bhutan National Legal Institute and the JSW Law School for their commitment, demonstrated through their excellent facilitation, the development of the manual on consensus building, and for the work they are doing in training Bhutan’s future lawyers in the concepts and application of Human Dignity Appropriate Dispute Resolution.

It is UNDP’s great pleasure to both join you all today and to support this important work.

It is very appropriate that a number of institutions are involved in bringing this topic to light today. It reminds us that no one partner alone has the power to end what is the world’s most pervasive but yet one of the most least recognized human rights abuses. 

It is estimated that more than a third of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.  Violence against women and children includes child marriage, domestic violence and sexual violence, rape as a weapon of war, and human trafficking. It includes sexual harassment, cyber-bullying, dating violence and abuse of our elders.

At the heart of all forms of physical and sexual violence is gender inequality and discrimination, which violate the fundamental human rights of women and girls.

Here in Bhutan, domestic violence is alarming.  A national survey last year on violence against children supported by UNICEF found that 60 per cent of children experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. 60 percent of Bhutan’s children!

A national survey on violence against women from 2012 found 1 in 3 women in Bhutan experienced some form of violence from an intimate partner. A new comprehensive national survey on violence against women, led by NCWC and supported by UNDP and Austrian Development Cooperation, will be released in the coming months.

And this is not just a question of prevalence; it is a question of perception. The acceptance rate among Bhutanese women of domestic violence stands high at 68 per cent. What does that perception do to a community? What does that do to a country? As police officers, you must see this first hand in your work in cities and villages around Bhutan.

Violence against women and children is the antithesis of Gross National Happiness. It destroys families, it destroys mental and physical health, it stunts productivity and educational attainment.  It perpetuates poverty, lingers across generations, and drives depression, alcohol and substance abuse.

The individual costs is unconscionable. But so to the societal cost:  the associated costs of healthcare, social and family services, and of the criminal justice system; the indirect costs of loss of income and lower productivity, increased sickness and poverty; the long-term health effects including higher rates of unintended and rapid repeat pregnancy, and significantly higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

And then there are the hidden costs: the fear, the emotional pain and anxiety that victims suffer silently every day. The repeated cycle of violence for those who experienced or witnesses of violence as children. Children who have experienced violence are more likely to drop out of school, have problems with alcohol and drug addiction and other crimes, and to become perpetrators of violence themselves.

While I appreciate this is a deeply depressing narrative for a Monday morning, we have to say it out loud. We have to recognize the problem. Because these costs threaten to unravel the pursuit of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, as well as Bhutan’s contribution to the achievement of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet, despite its pervasiveness, violence against women is not inevitable – and it is preventable. And investing in prevention and healing can be one of the single most catalytic and efficient strategies to accelerate GNH.

That is why your commitment today so important. Fixing this problem is not just about laws and policies, important as they are. We need to talk about it more. We need women and children to trust that when they report violence, the officers and the system are there to believe them, to help them, with safe spaces, quick thinking, timely intervention, and good forensic skills. They need trust that the system will not hide or shame them.

We need responsive and timely services to help prevent violence, and to support healing and recovery if prevention was not possible or successful. And we need men to listen and change how they behave. That is why the work of this manual is so important.

This is not just a problem in Bhutan. UNDP works in over 170 countries and territories and, unfortunately, in so many of those nations, violence against women and children is an impediment to the freedom, voice, and opportunity that are essential if we will, as a planet, ever experience true gender equality.

That is why we are so committed as UNDP to helping solve this, in every place we work, with our partner inside and outside the United Nations.

That is why we are supporting the Violence Against Women and Girls nationwide survey right now, so that action in the future is based on evidence and fact. That’s why we worked with NCWC and all the Ministries on the Gender Equality Handbook, so that this issue cannot be hidden or forgotten as the 12th Five Year Plan is implemented. That’s why we have worked together with you all as well as the Office of the Attorney General, the Bhutan National Legal Institute, the Judiciary and the Anti-Corruption Commission to support the development of Bhutan’s first overarching Justice Sector Strategy, with a new NKRA on Access to Justice for all in the 12th Plan.

And that is why we are committed to working with to keep making noise about violence against women and children, and to do our best to mobilize resource to tackle the problem together. This is a commitment we have documented in our plan for the next five years as UNDP, where working to address violence against women and girls will be one of our priorities.

But more importantly, we are here to support each of you as advocates of change, because tackling this issue is as deeply personal as it is professional. You – particularly the male officers in the room -- need to be the champions of change. You need to put a red line on the ground and say ‘this will not happen on my watch’.

The fact that you are all here today demonstrates that you care, and it shows how serious the Royal Bhutan Police are about protecting the nation’s women and children. I am hopeful that the training over these three days, with the leadership and support of RENEW and all the institutions in this room, will help equip you with the tools, the knowledge and the courage to fulfil your role in ending domestic violence in Bhutan.

Thank you and Tashi Delek. 

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