Role of Women
Although officially the government has encouraged greater participation of women in political and administrative life, male members of the traditional aristocracy dominate the social system. Economic development has increased opportunities for women to participate in fields such as medicine, both as physicians and nurses; teaching; and administration. By 1989 nearly 10 percent of government employees were women, and the top civil service examination graduate in 1989 was a woman. During their government careers, women civil servants were allowed three months maternity leave with full pay for three deliveries and leave without pay for any additional deliveries. Reflecting the dominance of males in society, girls were outnumbered three to two in primary and secondary-level schools.
Women in the 1980s played a significant role in the agricultural work force, where they outnumbered men, who were leaving for the service sector and other urban industrial and commercial activities. In the mid-1980s, 95 percent of all Bhutanese women from the ages of fifteen to sixty-four years were involved in agricultural work, compared with only 78 percent of men in the same age range. Foreign observers have noted that women shared equally with men in farm labor. Overall, women were providing more labor than men in all sectors of the economy. Less than 4 percent of the total female work force was unemployed, compared with nearly 10 percent of men who had no occupation.
The government founded the National Women's Association of Bhutan in 1981 primarily to improve the socioeconomic status of women, particularly those in rural areas. The association, at its inaugural session, declared that it would not push for equal rights for women because the women of Bhutan had already come to "enjoy equal status with men politically, economically, and socially." To give prominence to the association, the Druk Gyalpo's sister, Ashi Sonam Chhoden Wangchuck, was appointed its president. Starting in 1985, the association became a line item in the government budget and was funded at Nu2.4 million in fiscal year 1992. The association has organized annual beauty contests featuring traditional arts and culture, fostered training in health and hygiene, distributed yarn and vegetable seeds, and introduced smokeless stoves in villages.
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