Gender Equality across Different Sectors and Position of Women in Agriculture in Bhutan

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With area of 38390 square kilometers, Bhutan is a landlocked country between the two giants of world, China to the north and India to the South. The country is divided into 20 administrative districts called dzongkhag and 205 blocks. It has a population of 727145 people out of which 37.8% resides in urban and 62.2% in rural area (National Ststistics Bureau, 2018).

There are three broad ethnic groups. Sharchops, the eastern population comprises the majority of population with 50%. This is followed by Ngalop, the western population 35%. Lotshampa, the southern population accounts the least with 15%. The Ngalops and most of the Sharchopas follow matrilineal inheritance lines, while the Lotshampas observe patrilineal inheritance.

Gender equality and women’s position in Bhutan

Many people believe that Bhutan has no significant gender equality issues, but this view may reflect gender stereotypes and norms more than evidence (Asian Development Bank, 2014). The laws of the country grants equal opportunities to all citizens irrespective of gender, ethnicity or any social and economic background. Therefore, many believe that there are no significant gender equality issues in Bhutan. On the other hand there are distinct gender stereotype that are influential. A report of NCWC states that the unequal status of women and their lack of equal opportunities are often taken for granted and is considered normal. The gender inequalities deeply rooted in families, communities, and individual minds remain largely invisible and underestimated. Additionally, the report of ADB says, that 44% of survey respondents believed that Bhutanese culture considers women inferior to men.

Gender equality

The country has more male population compared to women population. 52.3% of the population is male and 47.8% are female. The population of male is more than women in all age groups. According to the Asian Development Bank study, 2014, the gender equality indicator in Bhutan compares well with some but not all countries in the region. Though the inequality index rate is higher for Bhutan compared to China, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Bhutan has less unequal index rate compared to India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. (Asian Development Bank, 2014). Bhutan’s Gender inequality Index 2014 is 0.457, which is 97th among 155 nations (JICA, 2017).

Perception on gender discrimination

Young men and women have different views about the existence of discrimination and about women’s potential for leadership. A 2010 study that focused on attitudes of students at Sherbetse College noted that young men and women had sharply different views on whether discrimination against women was a problem in Bhutan. 48% of women but only 29% of men thought it was very serious or somewhat serious. 62% of women but only 28% of men thought the country needed to continue to make changes to give women equal rights with men.

Women in leadership

Regarding the capacities of women or men for leadership, male respondents tended to think that men made the best leaders (58%) while female respondents were much more likely to believe capacities were equal (78%). Women are poorly represented in decision-making positions. Women accounted for 4 of the 47 members elected to the National Assembly in 2008 and 2013, and no women were elected to the national council in 2013, compared to 3 in 2008. In 2020, women accounted for 36% of all civil servants and 6% of the civil servants in the executive category. As cited by Chuki and Turner (2017) numerous studies have demonstrated that women constitute a small section of representatives in elected bodies across all levels of governance especially if quotas are removed (Chuki & Turner, 2017).

Education and employment

Gender gaps are evident in educational outcomes and unemployment. Unemployment rates are higher for women than men at all levels of education. The overall youth unemployment rate of Bhutan, 2018 is 15.7, the rate of women youth unemployment is 16.1 which is higher than the rate of male youth unemployment, 15.4% (National Statistics Bureau, 2018). A number of analyses consider household and community factors that affect girls’ participation and performance, including housework responsibilities and the incidence of early pregnancy.

While 66% of boys benefit from public funding, there are only 60% of girls who benefit from public funding. Participation by girls in education drops again between the end of secondary and the beginning of tertiary education. The gap between male and female unemployment rates is also greatest for those with tertiary education. Women’s unemployment rate with Bachelors degree is 18.1 while it is only 12.7% for men. With 2.8% for male and 9.3% for female, the gap of unemployment with masters and above qualification is also significant. The consistent patterns of unemployment suggest that women face discrimination in the labor market and that more attention is needed to promoting equal opportunities in employment.

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Domestic Violence

Tolerance of domestic violence is high in all social groups. The NCWC study on Violence against women states that there is violence against women and that the perpetrators of violence are both within the family and outside of the family. Among the different forms of violence, emotional violence is seen to be the most prevalent and sexual violence the least prevalent in the country.Among women aged 15–49 years who were currently or formerly married, 24% had experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence by their husbands or partners. Among all women aged 15-49 years, 68% believe that a man is justified in beating his wife or partner for some reasons.

Position of women in Agriculture, Bhutan

There are 66070 households across 20 dzongkhags and the poputhere is more male (54%) compared to women (46%) as head of households in general. However, in some western and central part of the country, the number of female is more than men as the head of the family.

More than half (62%) of the population lives in the rural area and agriculture is the main source of income for rural households (Asian Development Bank, 2014). The agricultural sector in Bhutan is characterized by smallholder and traditional farming practiced mainly in unfavorable production environments resulting in low productivity, high production costs and low competitiveness (Neuhoff, 2014). However, Agriculture as the leading employment sector employs 54% of employed person in Bhutan (National Statistics Bureau, 2018) and shares 17.37% of Gross Domestic Product as of 2017.

Agriculture continues to be the mainstay for many Bhutanese, particularly women. Women predominate in the rural and agriculture labor force in Bhutanese context. The agriculture occupational group has high proportion of Female (63%) labor force than male (46%) (National Statistics Bureau, 2018). The much slower movement of women than men out of agriculture reflects constraints faced by women.

Examining assumptions is a key component of gender analysis. Identifying and examining assumptions on gender relations is a critical step in undertaking a sound analysis. A claim made in many documents is that the relatively equal status of women in Bhutan is largely based on inheritance patterns that favored women (Asian Development Bank, 2014). One government study noted that these inheritance patterns had the effect of limiting women’s socioeconomic choices. Another report notes that inheritance practices have in the past bound women to the land, with the result that they missed out on education. These observations suggest that assumptions about women’s inheritance of family property providing a foundation for equality need further analysis.

Women Farmers face particular challenges in increasing productivity and earnings. Tackling low productivity and earnings in agriculture has been identified as important to reducing poverty and rural-urban disparities. However, factors like demands for child care, household responsibilities, and access to fragmented land holdings with limited labor time, lack of machinery to reduce heavy labor, and limited means to counteract crop destruction by wildlife affects women in increasing productivity and earning (JICA, 2017).

Cultural attitudes prevalent in families and among service providers, women’s capacities were underestimated, and this limited their participation in training and follow-up support provided to support implementation of lessons from training.

Women’s workloads are heavier than those of men. When family and community responsibilities are considered together with agriculture and other economic activities, the working day for women is long, particularly for rural women, and longer than that of men. 2010 GNH index on time use reported that women worked almost an hour more per day than men.


  1. Asian Development Bank. (2014). Bhutan:Gender Equality Diagnostic of Selected Sectors. Mandaluyong City: Asian Development Bank.
  2. Chuki, S., & Turner, M. (2017). Women and politics in democratic transitions: the case of Bhutan. Contemporary South Asia , 136-152.
  3. JICA. (2017). Survey of Country gender Profile: Kingdom of Bhutan. Japan International Cooperation Agency.
  4. National Statistics Bureau. (2018). 2018 Labor Force Survey Report Bhutan. Thimphu: National Statistics Bureau.
  5. National Ststistics Bureau. (2018). 2017 Population and Housing census of bhutan. Thimphu: National Ststistics Bureau.
  6. Neuhoff, D. T. (2014). Organic agriculture in Bhutan: potential and challenges. Springer Nature , 209–221.
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