Bhutan is not ranked in the 2012 SIGI due to missing data for one or more SIGI variables. The country was ranked 64th out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.
The 2011 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) score for the country is 0.522, placing it in 141st place (out of 187 countries). The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.495.
Following the Marriage Amendment Act of 1996, the legal age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women. Despite the law, the government reports that both sexes engage in common-law marriages as early as the age of 15 years.
The law provides that marriages must be based upon mutual consent however; some underage girls may be forced into the union by parents or other relatives.
The United Nations reports, based on 2006 data that 16 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 4 percent of boys in the same age range. The government’s data from 2006 indicates that in some areas up to 23 percent of girls between 15 to 19 years were married, with early marriage being more prevalent in rural areas compared to urban areas in most parts of the country.
The practice of polygamy is permissible by law but dependent on consent of the first spouse. In 2003, the government reported that the practice is accepted in the south, some parts of western and central Bhutan as well as among some nomadic communities in the north. The government reported in 2007 that with socio-economic changes and increasing education, polygamy is fast declining.
While there is no information on parental authority during marriage, upon divorce the law grants custody of children under the age of nine years to the mother. Children who are 9 years of age or older have the right to choose their custodian. The father is obliged to pay child support until the child reaches the age of 18. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has raised concerns that this law perpetuates the stereotype of women as primary caretakers and is not based on the principle of the best interests of the child.
Bhutanese inheritance law provides for equal rights for all adults and children, regardless of sex or age. In practice, however, the government reports that traditional systems operate which are informal, flexible and often circumstantial. Patrilineal inheritance norms dominate in the south. In western and central Bhutan, inheritance follows matrilineal family systems by which land is usually inherited through the mother. One consequence of the matrilineal inheritance patterns is an increased responsibility for women in caring for their parents. The government reports that women remain primarily responsible for unpaid work in the family. A 2001 study however found difference between rural and urban areas. Women were more likely to be responsible for unpaid or reproductive work in urban areas. In more than 80 percent of rural households, women cooked, washed clothes, worked in the kitchen garden, preserved food and collected manure. More than two-thirds of rural women took care of children, fetched water, looked after domestic animals and distilled alcohol. Men and women were equally engaged in collection of fodder and in buying food, clothes and other items. However, in more than 90 percent of households in urban areas, women cooked, purchased food, washed clothes and cleaned the house, while between 60 and 80 percent of women in urban areas took care of the sick and children, and preserved food. In both rural and urban areas, more than two-thirds of women engaged in primary reproductive tasks.
 CEDAW (2007) p.106  CEDAW (2003) p.18  CEDAW (2007) p.106  United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008)  CEDAW (2007) p.145  CEDAW (2007) p.40  CEDAW (2003) p.18  CEDAW (2007) p.40  CEDAW (2009a) p.8  CEDAW (2007) p.108  CEDAW (2009a) p.8  CEDAW (2009b) p.24  CEDAW (2009b) p.24  CEDAW (2003) p.17  Gross National Happiness Commission (2008) p.34
The Penal Code prohibits rape which is punishable by 3 to 5 years’ imprisonment. The Penal Code defined 11 different categories of rape, all of which were felonies of the fourth degree or higher, except for marital rape, which is a petty misdemeanour. Marital rape is punishable by a minimum prison term of 1 year and a maximum term less than 3 years. In 2007, the government reported that cases of domestic violence were recorded as assaults or battery under the Penal Code. However, in 2009 the government reported it was considering a Domestic Violence Bill which was to be tabled by 2010. The Labour and Employment Bill adopted in 2007 contained provisions on sexual harassment in the workplace.
There is no national prevalence data on violence against women in Bhutan. There were 45 reported cases of rape in the capital, Thimpu, in 2005. In 2005, 71 cases of domestic violence were reported. However, 37 cases were withdrawn. In its National Action Plan on Gender the government notes that the police data is not a credible indicator of the actual incidence of violence against women due to the manual reporting system of the policy and under-reporting by women. The government reports that police and judiciary officials may not know how to deal sensitively with victims of violence or may consider domestic violence as a private matter. The US Department of State reports that many women did not report rape because of cultural taboos or because they were unaware of their rights.
In 2009, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women commended the government for taking steps to increase women’s safety including commissioning a report on violence against women, setting up mobile police stations and training the police on gender issues. However, the Committee also expressed concern that violence was reportedly experienced by women in marriage, within the family and at their workplaces, and that there was a low level of awareness among women of their rights, coupled with a culture of silence around violence against women.
Female genital mutilation is not a general practice in Bhutan.
Limitations on women’s reproductive rights also infringe upon women’s physical integrity in Bhutan. Abortion is illegal under the Penal Code except for the purpose of saving the life of the mother or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or when the mother is of unsound mental condition. The World Health Organisation reports that Efforts to promote accessibility of effective family planning has resulted in the contraceptive prevalence rate increasing from 18 percent in 1994 to 31 percent in 2000. Despite data being limited, the World Health Organisations reports that it is widely believed that women sometimes seek the assistance of unqualified and untrained personnel to perform illegal abortions. Although there has been a decline, data from 2003 shows that the maternal mortality ratio remainshigh at 255 per 100,000live births.
 CEDAW (2007) p.30  CEDAW (2007) p.30  CEDAW (2007) p.30  CEDAW (2009a) p.5  CEDAW (2009c) para 26  CEDAW (2007) p.140  CEDAW (2007) p.141  Gross National Happiness Commission (2008) pp.134-135  US Department of State (2010)  CEDAW (2009a) pp.4-5  CEDAW (2007) p.87  World Health Organisation (n.d.)  World Health Organisation (n.d.)
Gender disaggregated data on the rates of infant mortality and early childhood nutrition is not available for Bhutan. Data from 2003 on child labour indicates that girls aged 10-14 were more likely than boys to be engaged in economic activity, both in rural and urban areas. In terms of the modality of work, girls were more likely than boys to be engaged as a family worker. This suggests a preferential treatment of sons in the allocation of work in the family. In 2009, the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also expressed concern about the situation of girl child domestic workers, mainly from rural and remote areas, who work long hours and are vulnerable to violence. With respect to education, UNICEF data indicates that while girls and boys are enrolled in equal numbers, girls have lower attendance rates. This suggests that there may be the preferential treatment of sons with respect to education.
The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.1.
Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups indicates that Bhutan is a country of concern for missing women although there appears to be improvement in recent years.
The Land Act of 1979 allows registration of land in the names of women or men aged 18. A spouse has no rightful ownership to sell that land. . Based on 2001 government study, an estimated 60 per cent of rural women hold land titles. Due to the matrilineal inheritance system and land, social expectations and the lack of urban sector skills, the majority of women are engaged in the agriculture sector. While women do have access to land in Bhutan, it should be noted that due to isolation, limited arable land and food shortages, women who work in agriculture are more vulnerable to poverty.
Men and women have the same legal rights and access to property other than land. In 2007, the government reported that 45 percent of property titles in urban areas (shares, building and business licences) were registered to women.
The Loan Act of 1981 provides women with independent access to bank loans and other forms of credit. Data on access to credit indicates that between 2002 and 2006, more women than men are accessing loans although there was a slight increase in the proportion of females. In 2006, women made up 38 percent of individuals accessing loans. The government reports that access to credit particularly remains a challenge for rural women.
Women do not experience any restrictions in terms of freedom of movement.
With respect to political participation, women remain extremely under-represented. The percentage of women in parliament decreased from 9.3 percent in 2005 to 2.7 percent in 2008. Women are also under-represented in other areas of public life. In 2009, women constituted 26 percent of civil service employees and held more than 30 percent of positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There were no women on the high court, although there was one female judge in a district court.
The Labour and Employment Act guarantees equality of opportunity and equality in employment for women and men. The law also prohibits gender discrimination with respect to pay. Women working in the public and private sectors are entitled to three months paid maternity leave paid at 100 percent of wages.
The Kingdom of Bhutan became a two-party parliamentary democracy after elections in March 2008. A refugee issue of over 100,000 Bhutanese in Nepal remains unresolved with 90 percent of the refugees are housed in seven United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees camps. The economy is one of the world’s smallest, however hydropower exports to India have boosted Bhutan's overall growth. The World Bank classifies Bhutan as a lower middle-income country.
Since becoming a democracy, Bhutan has introduced a number of reforms to promote gender equality including the development of a National Plan of Action for Gender (2008-2013) and setting up a network of Gender Focal Points and a National Commission for Women and Children. However, in 2009 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women expressed concern about the persistence of discrimination both in the family and in public life which perpetuates gender-specific roles and responsibilities. Further, the Committee expressed concern about the lack of progress in terms of women’s political participation, the vulnerability of young women to HIV and women’s dropout rates in secondary and tertiary education. The government reported in 2007 that women have a high mortality rate due to the risks of childbirth and women’s limited access to knowledge, food, and care. Women also lag behind men in terms of participation in non-agricultural employment.
Article 7 of Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan guarantees equality before the law and protection from discrimination on the grounds of sex. Article 9 of the Constitution provides further protection of women’s rights providing that the “State shall endeavour to take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation against women including trafficking, prostitution, abuse, violence, harassment and intimidation at work in both public and private spheres. Bhutan signed the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1980.
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