Nepali Times
Shared visions


The chanting from the Dzongs that carries across the mountain air in Paro and float into my room with the fragrance of the Tsang. Sparse picturesque houses their roofs shining with the red chilly peppers that are drying in the sun. The exceptional grace and charm of the Bhutanese hosts: catering to the whims and fancies of 250 mountain women that have gathered from across the globe in celebration of the International Year of Women.

"Yes laa." The lilt is a combination of Singaporean and Darjeeling, and the obsequious bow is half-Japanese. Delegates from exotic mountain nations Kryrgyztan (I think that is the latest spelling) Bolivia, Colombia, Kurdistan and Nepal are in another exotic mountain kingdom. Resplendent in their native costumes, mountain peoples display their pride of place and their unique cultures.

It is a rare rendezvous, a sharing of views and many an eye-opener. There are discussions on the engendered position of women in Bhutan to the gendered position of women in Nepal.

As I talk to Dasho Leki Pema and the women members of Bhutan's National Commission, the undersecretaries and the cabinet secretaries and their male counterparts, I amazed by what I learn about the position of Bhutanese women.

It couldn't be more different than back home. They own land and property, they prefer the female child to the male, they have rights that they can exercise and state informed rules on equal opportunities for women that are very strictly enforced. The representatives of their National Council of Women have been elected by the people.

When will our women ward members ever be really empowered? One looks at the situation of conflict in many countries and wonders where is there going to be an initiative all in the name of development? We learn in Krygyzstan, the change in the government has led to many an imbalance between state law and customary law.

We learn that in Bhutan at the moment there is a Move for Health Walk, led by the Minister for Health himself, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup. The objective is to mobilise support for the Bhutan Health Trust Fund. Anyone can be part of this walk. The team is camping and cooking and trekking across Bhutan to raise money. Having fun for a cause.

From Bolivia we see freeze dried potatoes, light and tasty, and from the land of the Santhals we meet Kalawati, the women representative from Bastar, who has struggled with the forest department and has managed to negotiate for better wages for the women "tendu" collectors. She stands proud in her handspun wrapper, but will not wear shoes and never will-"The earth is my Mother and I cannot defile her by wearing the skin of animals to walk over her"-and she carries on, her anklet adorned feet, stepping lithely over the freezing flagstones.

The film festival, displays a wide gamut of strengths of the mountain women-from the weather lined faces of the lady from Ladakh, stoic, with tears gone dry, remembering in retrospect, the sons that she has lost to the war, to the captivating human emotions in Mukundo.

But while we emulate the Thimpu Declaration, that will be presented at Bishkek later this month, it is the words of the young Crown Princess of Bhutan that leaves us with hope: "Learning from this meeting has given more chances for younger women with better access to education than their parents, to learn from their elders." Truth, as we say, comes out of the mouth of babes, and so should it very rightly be our vision for the future.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)