Chogyel Wangmo, 32, stood in front of the Bhutan Gate in Phuntsholing, shocked and vulnerable. She was returning from a trip to Kalimpong with her friends, when as soon as she entered Bhutan, she felt an all familiar apprehension as a group of men, pulled over their card near her, and sneered at her.
At first she thought, she knew them but after a careful scan, she didn’t find any familiar faces amongst them. Irate and scared, she helplessly dashed away from the dark alley to the nearest place that was well lit. It wasn’t the first time she was catcalled; however, she was utterly disappointed that it happened the moment she stepped into her own country.
Chogyel didn’t like feeling helpless about the situation and wondered if there is there is anything she could do.
Catcalling/eve teasing is a shout, whistle or a comment of a sexual nature usually made towards women. In Bhutan, catcalling is a huge issue for almost all the women in the country, however, there hasn’t been a single case reported to the police station yet. Polls taken on Social Media say that 70 % of the women have faced catcalling.
The Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 considers eve teasing as offenses violating public order and tranquility, which means even if a case of eve teasing gets reported, “the convicted defendant shall not be imprisoned but shall be fined the daily minimum national wage rate up to a maximum of 90 days.”
Kunzang 25, felt helpless along with his sister whenever they walked together and she was teased. “I feel infuriated but there hasn’t been much I could do for my sister,” he said. “I worry men could get into bigger fights if we continue jeering at each other’s sisters.”
Pema Tshomo, 26, is school counselor and believes that the problem isn’t just with the men. “We talk a lot about changing men and their behavior but women should change too. Instead of being a back-voice and complaining, we should stand tall and voice out,” she said. “Eve-teasing can become dangerous if ignored, so it has to stop.”
When googling sexual harassment in Bhutan, the first article that comes up is a blogpost by our Prime Minister written in 2012, sharing his wife’s and daughter’s bitter experience with eve teasing. In the post, he admits, “Eve-teasing in Thimphu is not just offensive and hurtful-it’s dangerous. They (his wife and daughter), decided, wisely that, even in the middle of the day, Thimphu’s roads are not safe for women.”
This issue seems non-discriminatory in the sense that it hurts everybody from all walks of life, however, it is mostly women, who are on the receiving end of this unwelcomed crude misconduct.
The above piece is our trial at reporting an issue through the gender lens, during the Gender Sensitive Reporting exercise. We chose this issue, but our focus was being neutral and avoiding using words, phrases or indications of being gender-insensitive. With due permission from my fellow group-mates I publish this in my blog.
Fellow contributors: Choney Seldon, Kinley Jamphel, Thinley Choda, Pema Youden, Leela Raika, Jigme Sherab.
Read also: Ngawang P. Phuntsho’s article on eve-teasing