Bhutan GRPFM 2023


1.1 Purpose

1.1. This Gender Responsive Public Financial Management (GRPFM) assessment of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB). The purpose is to review the extent to which gender is mainstreamed in the RGoB’s PFM system as well as to establish a baseline for future assessments and guide integration of differential needs of men (boys) and women (girls) in PFM hereafter.

1.2. The arrangements described in Volume I (PFM assessment) as regards funding, peer review, time coverage, scope, etc., similarly apply to the GRPFM assessment.

1.3. The GRPFM assessment was conducted concurrently with the PFM assessment so as to collect specific information on the extent to which the RGoB’s PFM system is gender responsive, and so as to enable promoting gender-related aspects going forward based on the assessment findings.

1.2 Background

1.4. Bhutan has made significant socio-economic and health development in the last decade. The Human Development Index (HDI) was 0.654 in 2019, 2 which placed the country in the category of ‘medium’ human development countries – ranking 129 out of 189 countries. Between 2005 and 2019, Bhutan’s HDI value increased from 0.520 to 0.654, an increase of 25.8%, suggesting good progress towards achieving its development goals. Between 1990 and 2019, the life expectancy at birth increased by 18.9 years, mean years of schooling increased by 1.8 years and expected years of schooling increased by 7.5 years. The gross national income (GNI) per capita increased by about 328.0% between 1990 and 2019.

1.2.1 Overview of Gender Equality in Bhutan

1.5. In terms of gender equality, Bhutan has a Gender Gap Index of 0.6373 , ranking it at 126 out of 146 countries in 2022. While Bhutan has made progress towards gender parity in education attainment, health and survival and political empowerment, its performance in the labor force participation regressed significantly. Bhutan ranked fifth among the South Asian countries behind Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka.

1.6. 16.5% of parliamentary seats are held by women, an increase from 13.9% in the elections in 2008. The Royal Edict in 1998, which emphasized the need for women’s representation in Parliament, thereby encouraging women to participate, was a huge milestone for women despite the continued low representation of both aspiring and elected women in Parliament. Women’s representation in local governments (LGs) increased from 11.4% in the second election to 12.6% following the elections in 2022. Women accounted for 39.8% of civil servants and 18.0% of the executive category. 4 Social and cultural perceptions about male and female leadership include stereotypical images of women being less capable. The study ‘Women’s Political Participation in 2011 Local Government Elections’5 noted that women are portrayed as less capable than men, even by women themselves, which reportedly resulted in women’s loss of expectation, their leadership capability and proposed role in politics.

1.7. Bhutan has achieved gender parity at all levels of education (primary, secondary and tertiary) in 2022, although gaps remain in technical and vocational education. Female participation in technical and vocational training is 25.15 as compared to 74.84% male in 2021. 6 While no nationwide study has assessed the cause of women’s lower participation in technical education and its linkages to occupational segregation, recent trend analysis of labor force survey data on female participation in technical and vocational skills-related work points to a prevalence of gendered occupational segregation. For instance, the female share of employment in technical and associate professional occupation category is overall below 35 %, and below 5% in the ‘plant and machine operator’ category.

1.8. Data from labor force surveys also show an increase in the proportion of girls completing tertiary education, but which does not necessarily contribute to an increase in women’s employment or participation in decision-making. The unemployment rate was in 2021, with 6.1%, higher for women as compared to men (3.6%). 8 Likewise, there is gap between labor force participation for men (73.1%) and women (65.3%). The male labor force participation is higher in urban areas (74.0%) than in rural areas (72.7%), while female labor force participation is higher in rural areas (69.6%) than in urban areas (57.2%). In rural areas, the majority of women (57.8%) are engaged in the agricultural sector.

1.9. Women and girls remain primary providers of unpaid care work with 71% of the work being performed by women. 9 The increase was also visible during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic with more women and girls reporting an increase in time spent on unpaid care and domestic responsibilities compared to men and boys. 10 These gender roles at the household level constrain women of availing opportunities outside of their home, which affects their career choices and impedes career advancement.

1.10. As per a 2017 nationwide study on prevalence of violence against women and girls, 44.6% of women and girls experienced one or more forms of intimate partner violence (IPV) at least once in their life time. Controlling behavior was found to be the most common form of IPV with 35.3% of women and girls reporting experiencing such violence. Also, 53.4% of women and girls aged 15-64 believe that men are justified to hit their partner under certain circumstances, which indicates a high violence acceptance level. This suggests prevalence of harmful socio-cultural norms and practices, and a lack of awareness about women’s right.

1.11. The majority of the Bhutanese believe that women in Bhutan enjoy relatively higher socio-economic status than in neighboring countries, and that there is no overt gender discrimination. At the same time, there are distinct gender stereotypes and social norms that influence the expectation and behavior of men (and boys) and women (girls). For instance, 53.4% of women and girls who experienced one or more forms of IPV believed that, “women are nine births lower than men”. Similar stereotypical norms are prevalent with regard to women’s leadership and other areas of employment where women are perceived as less capable, but better caregivers, and dependent on men.

1.2.2 Bhutan’s Journey on Gender Equality

1.12. Bhutan has always maintained non-discriminatory approach to development. This is evident from the Constitution 2008 wherein fundamental rights are equally bestowed on men and women, fundamental duties mandate every Bhutanese not to tolerate violence against women, and principles of state policies intend and guide actions to eliminate discrimination against women and children. The Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) 2013 in particular criminalizes all acts of violence against women within a family and intimate relationships, and provides for effective services for survivors. The Penal Code 2004 (and its subsequent amendments) as well as the Labor and Employment Act 2007 serve as important legal instruments for prevention and responding to violence against women, including sexual harassment at the work place. Considerable efforts are being made to establish appropriate mechanisms and services for effective implementation of the acts. However, an implementation assessment of the DVPA and its rules and regulations revealed gaps in services, particularly at the local level, inadequate human resources, and inconsistent procedures in application of protection/interim protection orders.

1.13. The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) was established in 2004 as the nodal agency for women and children. It is responsible for protection and promotion of rights of women and children through advocacy, legislations and policy, monitoring and resource mobilization. The NCWC also has a function to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in collaboration with relevant government and non-government agencies. The NCWC develops gender mainstreaming frameworks, tools, guidelines and carries out capacity building programs for Gender Focal Persons (GFPs)12 to support integration of gender perspectives in the sectoral/local plans, policies and activities.

1.14. Bhutan practices a Five-Year Plan (FYP) planning approach to develop and consideration on gender equality and women’s empowerment is being made in the plans since the 6 th FYP (1987-1992). The current 12th FYP adopts a two-pronged approach to achieve – a dedicated National Key Results Area (NKRA) 10 “Gender Equality” and mainstreaming gender across other NKRAs.

1.15. The development research, policy and practices of the RGoB is guided by the Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy – a reflexive, deliberate and middle-path approach to development. It strives to include every man, woman and child in the process of development. Furthermore, all public policies in Bhutan are mandatorily screened from a GNH perspective through the use of the GNH Screening Tool, which has gender equality as one of the parameters.

1.16. Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting (GRPB) was introduced in 2012 as an important strategy to accelerate investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment interventions. The RGoB began piloting GRPB in three sectors (education, health and agriculture) in 2014. Building capacities of officials, awareness creation, and formation of a taskforce to oversee the initiatives were some of the initial activities carried out. A strategic framework for gender mainstreaming and GRPB was prepared in 2013 to provide an overall framework for the RGoB and to enhance coordinated efforts across sectors. The MoF was identified as the lead agency for implementing GRPB supported by the NCWC as well as a steering committee and a working-level committee.

1.17. The National Gender Equality Policy, approved by the Cabinet in 2020, provides an effective framework within which legal acts, policies, programs and practices ensure equal rights, opportunities and benefits for all individuals, communities, workplaces and society at large. It serves as a guiding document for the RGoB to facilitate deeper and wider inclusion across all sectors towards achieving the common vision on gender equality. The policy explores gender equality through the lens of three domains – political, social and economic. It is currently being reviewed to integrate LGBT+ perspectives.

1.18. The National Plan of Action for Gender Equality (2019-2023) was developed in 2019 by the NCWC in collaboration with relevant government and non-government agencies. The Action Plan presents a holistic approach to achieving gender equality by addressing the gaps and challenges identified, and by taking into consideration new and emerging issues. It outlines key gender equality targets and interventions across 10 critical areas of good governance; education and training; health; ageing, mental health and disabilities; violence against women; stereotypes and prejudices; economic development; women and poverty; sports; and, climate change and poverty. While the NCWC is the lead agency for ensuring the implementation of a Plan of Action, all relevant agencies are expected to integrate relevant interventions and targets in their respective sectors.