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Women in Bhutanese society

What is matriarchy?

Matriarchy is a hypothetical social structure in which the mother or a female elder figure has complete control over the family unit and, consequently, one or more women (as in a council) have the same amount of power over the entire society. While some people may regard any non-patriarchal society as matriarchal, others do not include those systems in the technical definition of matriarchies.

Image of a Bhutanese mother with her children. Picture source: Neptuneholidaysbhutan.

Roles of Bhutanese women in a matriarchal society

Bhutan has a historically matriarchal social structure, with women serving as the head of the home and making decisions.

Having a daughter is regarded more favorably in Bhutan than having a son, in contrast to many communities in China and India. The reason for this is that daughters have a reputation for providing greater care for the household and aging parents.

Women and men participate equally in decision-making at the local, state, and federal levels, but at the grassroots level, female participation can reach up to 70%.

Contrary to many other regions of the world, Bhutan does not have directly institutionalized discrimination against women. The nation's Buddhist beliefs may be linked to Bhutan's female empowerment. Bhutanese culture is highly influenced by Buddhist values , which holds men and women on an equal footing.

In most regions of Bhutan, properties are passed to a Bhutanese woman. Women also own about half the country's land, and in some rural areas, their percentage might reach 60%. Also typical is the bridegroom's relocation to the bride's home. When a woman marries, she does not adopt her husband's name. At birth, daughters do not also adopt their father's name.

They frequently assist the men working in the field. In both the public and private sectors, they hold managerial positions. Married women frequently earn as much money as their husbands do in addition to taking care of the home. In some families, women even provide the primary source of income.

Questioning the prevailing gender inequality

Just because Bhutan is traditionally a matriarchal society doesn’t mean that gender inequality doesn’t exist in the nation. These issues are apparent in women’s participation in leadership positions. Even while they take part in decision-making at all levels, women still trail behind in the economy and in political engagement. Women make up just 8.5% of the national assembly and 24% of the national council, which has a lower percentage of female employees than male employees.

There are primarily two reasons. The first is that traditionally, women in Bhutan have had less access to education than men. Bhutanese preferred to send more boys than girls to school when the nation initially started its effort for national development. Back then, safety for the girls was a concern. As a result, there were very few women in prominent positions of authority in the public service.

School going girls in Bhutan. Picture courtesy: Daily Bhutan.

In addition, women are perceived as being the protectors and caregivers of the home. The advancement of Bhutanese women professionally has been hampered by this assumption.

According to a study from 2001, women handled all of the cooking and cleaning in 80% of rural homes. In metropolitan regions, where 90% of households assigned the responsibility of maintaining the home to women, the percentage was considerably greater. A different study from 2012 found that roughly 62% of the women asked said their home lives prevented them from participating in public life.

Additionally, while women in Bhutan receive three months of paid maternity leave, abortion is still not permitted in the nation. This forces women who lack authority of their own body from Bhutan to cross the border into India in search of abortion procedures which are often cheap and unsafe.

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