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Gender considerations in environmental projects of UNDP: Case study

  • Tshering, D.
  • Dolma, G.

Nestled in the eastern part of the Himalayan range, the kingdom of Bhutan has an area of 38,394 km2 populated with about 635,000 people. About seventy per cent of the population lives in rural areas subsisting on a farming system, which integrates crop agriculture, livestock rearing and use of natural resources for a wide range of products and services. Majority of the population live in the mountains and valleys of the central belt and in the foothills along the southern frontier. Population in the northern part is very sparse and scattered. People in Bhutan live in harmony with nature in a symbiotic relationship that goes back to untold centuries. The rural community's relationship with environment is reflected in the abundant use of various kinds of plants for medicine, essential and vegetable oil, traditional paper, natural vegetable dyes, etc. Domesticated ornamental plants are also widely known to Bhutan's rural folk. Unlike most other South Asian countries, Bhutanese society is mainly matriarchal and women have equal status to men not only in the eye of the law. Women inherit parental property including land1 (about 60% of the land owned by women) and take care of the parents while sons leave the house upon marriage. However present socio-cultural perceptions of both men and women see women as less capable and confident than men especially in matters of governance and interaction with external agencies according to a pilot study conducted by the Royal Government of Bhutan with assistance from the UN system in Bhutan. The gender division of tasks in agriculture is not very clear in Bhutan. While some tasks are generally allocated by gender, others may be performed by both men and women, and men and women can to a large extent take over from each other. Bhutanese women are usually engaged in firewood collection, crop cultivation, vegetable gardening, yak herding, traditional weaving using vegetal dyes and other handicraft making. Men, by tradition, are engaged in ploughing, construction, trading and other business or manual activity. Off-farm activities are undertaken by both men and women. Women are traditionally engaged in weaving and petty trade. Cloth weaving is an important economic activity in the central and eastern regions. Basket- and shoemaking, portering and carpentry work are some of the non-farm income earning activities that men undertake. Producing fine bamboo baskets and other containers is a specialty of the people in the eastern districts, which are now becoming very popular among tourists. Bhutan has numerous family-operated traditional paper-making units. In the Bhutanese farming community the system of exchange labour is widely practiced. Both men and women work on another's farm as part of the labour-for-labour exchange. In this system men's and women's work are accounted as equal. Both men and women also take up jobs in road construction, but for unskilled labour men are paid higher daily wages than women.

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    UNDP Bhutan