Celebrating Activism: a Food for Thought on Women’s Day

RENEW, the organization fighting against violence against women and children in Bhutan, believes that there is a need for activism in all of us – a duty for individual action to spread awareness on the issue. “It takes so much more than an organization to address this issue.” says Dr. Meenakshi Rai, the Director of the community outreach programs stressing on the importance of individual responsibility to stop domestic violence.

by Sangay Wangmo         Video by RENEW

Above: Women pioneers of Bhutan share their messages to girls on Women’s Day 2018.

On 8th March RENEW celebrated International Women’s Day with the global theme “Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives” in the Royal Banquet Hall. As of now, the organization has registered volunteers across the country who are tirelessly working to spreading information and counseling for women’s rights, victims of domestic abuse and more. Although the call for activism, at least in the circle of domestic relationships, may be simple – it stands for the movement of gender inequality at its core.

The timeline of gender equality in world history is filled with activist movements against cultural misogyny and exclusion. From fighting for the right to vote, access to education and working with the men, the journey for eliminating gender inequality has come a long way. Though the growth of achievement has been high, gender inequality, unfortunately still exists all over the world. In a survey, RENEW found that 75% of women believed it was justifiable for a man to beat his wife, and only 33% of domestic abuse cases have been formally reported. The women in the parliament take up only 8.3% of the total seats, and the local governance has only 11.6% of women participating. Even in the Royal Civil service, women comprise of only 10%. These scarce numbers of women in key decision-making positions should not be ignored.

For Bhutan’s first woman minister the need for empowering women goes beyond fighting entrenched prejudices. “Empowering women is a necessity for societies to flourish socially and economically,” says Lyonpo Dorji Choden. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has also placed interventions for Gender Equality and eliminating all forms of violence against Women (VAW) in its core; all member countries including Bhutan have pledged to focus on striving towards it. On Women’s Day, RENEW also organized a 3 day extensive workshop on issues around women’s sexual reproductive health aimed at capacity building among different service providers to provide quality SRH services through community engagement. During the final day, RENEW also launched 5 guidelines focused on “Standard Operating Procedure on Case Management for Women and Children in difficult circumstances’ ensure provision of effective, appropriate, and timely services in prevention and response to protection issues faced by women and children in difficult circumstances.”

While the policy level progress seem promising, it all comes back to the earlier call for individual responsibility – a spirit of activism. “The term activism can be misconstrued as many translate it to stand for aggressive street campaigns. But on this occasion, we’re paying tribute our activists in urban and rural Bhutan who are spreading this awareness and changing the lives  of people who believed there was no way out. We’re supporting the survivors who chose to come forward and leave their lives of abuse behind.” Although organizations like RENEW and their stakeholders strive to bring about change, what will eventually matter, as Dr. Meenakshi puts it, “is the collective duty of individuals, families and community members working towards creating a violence-free society.”

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