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Alumna leading the way to prevent gender-based violence in Bhutan

Posted: 22 November 2023

Bhutan, Alumni, Impact, Women in leadership,

To mark this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, we share the story of Australia Awards Short Course alumna Ugyen Tshomo, who works as a Chief Program Officer at Bhutan’s National Commission for Women and Children under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development. She is a passionate gender advocate working to promote and protect the rights of women and girls in the country. Ugyen’s contribution strongly aligns to Australia Awards’ Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion strategy and fosters a sense of collaboration and community development.

Ugyen participated in an Australia Awards Short Course on Women in Executive Leadership Development in 2020, and says that the Short Course has been ‘instrumental in shaping [her] career trajectory’. She notes that it has equipped her with diverse leadership skills (including refined communication, strategic thinking, critical decision-making and expertise in team management), expanded her professional network and provided access to crucial resources. ‘These competencies have proven invaluable in navigating the complexities of executive leadership roles,’ she says.

Ugyen participating in the Women in Executive Leadership Development Short Course in 2020

Elaborating on the benefits she has experienced, Ugyen specifies that participating in the Short Course has connected her with a network of accomplished professionals, ‘each bringing their own unique perspectives and expertise from diverse backgrounds’. This network offers opportunities for collaboration, mentorship and reciprocal support. Through ongoing connections with her fellow Short Course participants, Ugyen says, ‘we have been able to share knowledge, tackle challenges collectively and celebrate our collective successes’.

Another of the benefits of participating in the Short Course was becoming an Australia Awards alumna, allowing Ugyen to access new opportunities. In June 2022, Ugyen travelled to Kathmandu to participate in the Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia Regional Alumni Workshop which had the theme of Leading and Inspiring Meaningful Change. During the workshop Ugyen delivered a presentation on the National Commission for Women and Children’s campaign against gender-based violence.

Following her participation in the Regional Alumni Workshop, Ugyen received an Australia Awards Regional Changemakers’ grant that supported her to implement a project focused on engaging men and boys to prevent gender-based violence in Bhutan. Although Bhutan has a strong legal and development mechanism for gender equality, gender-based violence remains endemic in some communities and escalated during the pandemic.

With the support of the grant, Ugyen was able to facilitate a community dialogue with 30 men and boys from a chosen locality in Thimphu, with the aim of preventing gender-based violence by understanding and influencing the participants’ ideas, attitudes and behaviours. A preliminary assessment based on reported incidents of gender-based violence and perceived prevalence of gender stereotypical norms and practices was used to identify and target the participants.

Ugyen (second from the right) with alumnae from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh at the 2022 Regional Alumni Workshop in Kathmandu.

The project was implemented in three phases through structured sessions. The first phase involved designing the facilitation sessions and identifying the participants. This was followed by the second phase: working with the participants to introduce the project objectives and familiarise them with gender concepts and gender issues within their community. The final phase engaged the participants through interactive sessions on understanding gender concepts and issues and understanding the role of men and boys in preventing gender-based violence.

Surveys were conducted before and after the grant activity to track the effectiveness of the sessions. The results were encouraging: after the activity, participants reported a higher level of understanding of gender concepts and issues and increased awareness of their role in preventing gender-based violence. The project also highlighted that some men initially identified gender issues only as ‘female issues’, as evidenced by their lack of enthusiasm during the familiarisation session. However, by the final session, the participants understood and acknowledged their roles in preventing gender-based violence and creating safe and peaceful environments in their families, in the community and in society as a whole.

Five people from Bhutan stand in front of an electronic display that says "Australia Awards - South Asia & Mongolia regional Alumni Workshop"

Ugyen with other alumni and Australia Awards team members from Bhutan at the 2022 Regional Alumni Workshop

Ugyen says that the skills and insights she gained from her Short Course have been “directly applicable” when applying for and implementing grant activities.

For example, she says, ‘I have been able to approach grant activities with a more strategic mindset, ensuring that decisions are made with a keen understanding of the broader organisational and societal implications. Additionally, my extended [Australia Awards] network has provided opportunities for collaboration on grant initiatives, leading to more robust and impactful outcomes.’

Although broad changes to attitudes and behaviours cannot happen overnight, Ugyen firmly believes that creating awareness and engaging males as change agents offer a way forward in reducing gender-based violence. As Ugyen says, “Empowering men and boys brings change. Engaging them dismantles the root of gender-based violence, forging a future of respect and equality.”