Bhutanese People

Bhutanese women constitute 49.5 percent of the country's total population and play a major role in the development of the country. They are actively involved in all areas of economic, political and social life as farmers, entrepreneurs, decision-makers, doctors, engineers and homemakers. Bhutanese women do not face any institutionalized form of discrimination- politically, socially, economically or legally. Law treats women and men equally and many of its provisions protect the rights and interests of women and children.

There is equal participation of women and men permitted in decision-making, such as at community meetings, but at the grass roots level female involvement is as high as 70 percent. Participation of women in district and block development council is also being actively promoted and is increasing. Positions in the higher levels of government and decision-making, in which women are not yet adequately represented, are open to both genders and placement of women in the higher strata of government is being encouraged.

In the field of education the enrolment of girls in the primary level at 46 percent in 2000 is one of the highest in the SAARC region as well as in the developing countries. Maternal and child health too has been accorded high priority by the government. Effective service delivery and aggressive advocacy campaign in areas of safe motherhood, concept of small family, women empowerment, adolescent reproductive health and prevention of STD/HIV diseases have also attributed to the general improvement of health of women and children.

There is no significant preference for the male child over the female among most sections of the population and sex-biased abortions are unknown among the Bhutanese. In traditional society, most of which is matriarchal, women were expected to hold the house and landed property while sons would leave home and settle in their wives' house. This custom is based on the belief that women need economic security to enable them to take care of their parents and raise children. This has led to the customary rights of importance by daughters. It is estimated that almost half of land-registered titles, which is an index of property distribution, are recorded in favor of women. According to a gender pilot study conducted in 2001, in rural areas, 60 percent of the landowners are women and in urban areas, building and business licenses was registered in favor of women.

The concept of the 'head of households' is a relative one. Household decision-making varies from one issue to another and on the capacity of the individual. There is no fixed appointment of roles to either the wife or the husband. In a case of divorce, laws provide fair share for equitable spousal and child support.

The National Women's Association of Bhutan (NWAB) was established in 1981 to enhance the role of women at all levels of the development process. The association with nationwide chapters has successfully addressed the various needs of rural women through a variety of program like education, family healthcare, skills training, employment and rural credit facilities.

Bhutanese Religion

Buddhism is practiced throughout the country and the majority of the Bhutanese are Buddhist. Hinduism is practiced particularly in Southern Bhutan among the Bhutanese of Nepali origin. As practiced by the Southern Bhutanese, Hindu religion has many common saints and divinities with Vijrayana Buddhism, the school of religion prevalent in Bhutan. The main protective deity of the country, Yeshey Gonpo or Mahakala, is a Tantric Buddhist form of Hindu God Shiva and often appears in the form of a raven.

Prior to the advent of Buddhism, various forms of animistic religions including Bon were followed in Bhutan. In some parts of the country these traditions and rituals are still practiced by minority groups.

Bhutan has been home to many sages and saints over the centuries since Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Kuenkhen Longchen Ramjam, Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo, Pema Lingpa, Drukpa Kuenley, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye are some of the key figures of Bhutanese Buddhism. Drukpa Kagyu, school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism, is the official state religion. Although it is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, it has its own set of unique beliefs and practices.

Religious Institutions continue to play an important role in Bhutan. Besides the formal monastic structure that is supported by the state, the monk body also includes monks and nuns who are not part of state sponsored institutions. Monks continue to play an important role in people's daily lives. They perform religious ceremonies, and preserve and promote traditional scholarships.


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