Bhutan has made notable strides in promoting an environment to improve gender equality. Yet significant gaps remain, particularly in women’s experience with governance and policy. In response, the Bhutan Canada Foundation is working with the Royal Institute of Management (RIM) to promote gender equality in the delivery of public programs by Bhutan’s civil service. RIM is the key Bhutanese education institution mandated to promote management knowledge and skills in the public sector. The joint BCF-RIM project, funded by the Canadian High Commission in Delhi through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, will focus on incorporating gender issues, concepts and skills into RIM curriculum that is delivered to new and existing civil servants.
The project will address a key need in Bhutan. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2018 ranks Bhutan as only 122 out of 149 countries in gender equality. One of the main reasons for the low ranking is the country’s performance in the index’s political indicator, where Bhutan ranks only 138 of 149 countries. Part of the issue is women’s underrepresentation in both political positions and within the civil service. In parliament, women hold only about 15% of seats in both houses. Women are therefore not in key positions for making policy decisions. Furthermore, women are also vastly underrepresented in the implementation of policy decisions and public services. According to Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) statistics, Bhutan’s civil service is made up of 37% women. Significantly, women hold lower level positions in the civil service and in areas associated with traditional gender roles. Only 9.7% of executive positions and 17.5% of operational positions in the civil service are held by women. In contrast, women are better represented in public sector jobs involving support services and in sectors such as health and education that are traditionally associated with women. Women are therefore underrepresented in jobs in both policy making and public service delivery.
The number of women in public decision-making positions is only part of the problem. According to a document from the former CIDA, now Global Affairs Canada, government services meant for ‘the public’ often do not respond to the potentially different needs of women and men. A masculine bias in the nature of public needs may overshadow needs specific to women, regardless of the number of women within the civil service. The governance challenge is therefore not just insufficient quantity of women in public decision-making positions, but insufficient quality of public services in terms of responsiveness to women’s needs. This has broad implications. According to OECD, providing equal access for women to public services that are relevant to their needs is critical for improving national wellbeing and driving a sustainable economy that benefits everyone.
Consultations with women show that this is the case in Bhutan. On a broad scale, Bhutan’s most recent Gross National Happiness survey, which measures happiness based on nine domains, found that women are much less happy than men. The largest gap in happiness between women and men was in the domain of education. The second largest gap was in the domain of good governance. In this domain, women were significantly less happy than men in their perception of government’s performance in the provision of services.
BCF and RIM will address this challenge. Working collaboratively, we are designing new RIM curriculum and revising existing curriculum to provide civil servants with a better understanding of gender issues and the skills to design and deliver gender responsive services. As a foundation for this process, a Gender and Curriculum Roundtable was held on October 18, 2019. The Roundtable brought together a diverse group of Bhutanese gender experts and practitioners to analyze existing practices in gender training and make recommendations for adapting these practices to the context of the Bhutanese civil service. Participants in the Roundtable included representatives from the National Commission for Women and Children, the judiciary, the Gross National Happiness Commission, the Royal Education Council, Journalists’ Association of Bhutan, Royal Thimphu College and Renew, a Bhutanese women’s NGO. The work that emerged from the Roundtable is now being used for the actual design of curriculum. Over the next few months, BCF and RIM will revise existing RIM courses in Economics, Public Policy and Gross National Happiness as well as design a new stand-alone module in Gender and Governance. RIM will begin delivering this curriculum throughout 2020, resulting in civil servants applying their new knowledge and skills to more gender responsive government programs.
Royal Civil Service Commission. (2018). Civil Service Statistics December 2018. Thimphu: RCSC.
CIDA. (2007). Gender Equality & Public Sector Capacity Development Tipsheet #4: General design considerations (integrated projects). Asia Branch, CIDA.
OECD. (2017). Better Governance for Gender Equality. OECD 2017.
Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research. (2016). A Compass Towards a Just and Harmonious Society: 2015 GNH Survey Report. Thimphu: Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research.