Online Gender Monitoring in Bhutan Can Pave the Way for Asia

Girls learning computer skills in Bhutan.
Girls learning computer skills in Bhutan.

By Sonam Penjor

ADB is piloting in Bhutan a web-based gender monitoring system to track the progress of gender mainstreaming efforts in national government agencies, the first of its kind in the region.

The UN Economic and Social Council defines gender mainstreaming is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action,” and about making the concerns of both sexes “an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs” so women and men benefit equally from development, with gender equality as the ultimate goal.

Despite the lofty statement, though, some critics argue that gender mainstreaming initiatives in developing countries often lack teeth in terms of monitoring progress.

That won’t be the case—we hope—very soon in Bhutan, where we are piloting a web-based gender monitoring system to track the progress of gender mainstreaming efforts in national government agencies, and generate consolidated reports on activity, budget, implementation status, indicators of success, and expenditure.

The system, the first of its kind in Asia and the Pacific, is part of an ADB-supported project financed by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction to advance economic opportunities for women and girls in the Himalayan kingdom.

Despite substantial progress since 2000, the journey towards Bhutanese women’s economic empowerment is not yet over. Only 59% of women are formally employed, compared to 72% of men. Likewise, youth unemployment is 2% higher among females (11.6%) than males (9.5%). And the situation is worse, of course, in rural areas.

A diagnostic of gender equality in Bhutan conducted in 2014 by ADB found that many people believe that the country has no significant gender issues, but this view reflects more stereotypes and norms than actual evidence. Examining these assumptions is a key component of gender mainstreaming. The report noted that gender gaps are evident in educational outcomes and unemployment, slower movement constrains women in agricultural work, the high incidence of domestic violence is not sufficiently challenged, and women are poorly represented in parliament and the civil service. Even the country’s unique Gross Happiness Index survey concludes that women are less happy than men (33% vs. 49% in the 2010 poll).

We are helping the Bhutanese government tackle these issues—many of which affect other developing countries in Asia and the Pacific—by training hundreds of women and girls in income-generating activities like tailoring, hairdressing, embroidery, and repair of home electrical appliances. After acquiring these skills, many of the beneficiaries later pursue economic activities of their own choice, such as producing and selling fruit, vegetables, organic fertilizers, potato chips, and dairy products; raising poultry; and weaving shawls and table liners.

That progress is closely monitored by the web-based system, hosted by the National Commission for Women and Children and operated by 83 government staff (50 males and 33 females) and 35 NGO employees (22 females and 13 males) belonging to the Gender Focal Points network. The gender focal points are expected to upload the data, which is then collated and disseminated to government agencies, NGOs and the private sector. This can support agencies in making gender sensitive planning and decision making, like for instance checking how many women and girls have been trained in non-farm professional skills, and which ones have been able to find a job since their training.

Although the system is still in its pilot phase, it is a step in the right direction and an initiative we believe can be scaled up nationwide—and even replicated in other countries in the region—to better monitor progress on gender mainstreaming so we know what’s working, and what’s not.