In the landlocked Himalayan nation of Bhutan, Namgay Peldon never thought she would make history, but she did. She was elected the first women Gup, the block leader, as the nation voted for the first time, transitioning from monarchy to democracy in 2008. Gewogs are official administrative units in Bhutan, each headed by a Gup. From Tashiding sub-district in central Bhutan, her story is unusual in a country which is beset with societal taboos and where women’s representation in politics is extremely low, with only 8.5 per cent women in the National Assembly.
During her tenure, Gup Peldon’s bucket-list consists of building a hospital for the Gewog, improve access to the Gewog Centre for the villagers, and increase water supply for both irrigation and drinking purposes. A former teacher with strong relationships in the community, the 30-year-old mother of two young kids says she owes her success to a strong education and her unfaltering belief that everyone is equal.
What do you think have been the most important factors that helped get you where you are today?
Education has been a key factor for me and it has really played a vital role in getting me where I am today. My family also influenced and encouraged me a lot, and my work as a non-formal educator also gave me an opportunity to work with the communities closely. Ultimately they inspired me to run for the position of Gup.
What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced?
For me the biggest challenge was that I had to shorten my maternity leave due to the demands of my work. I had a small baby at that time and it was extremely costly to take a babysitter along for the campaign period and I had to spend extra money to be able to take care of my baby so that I could attend important meetings. So, being a woman is challenging if the environment is not made conducive.
How do you cope with being one of the few women in your area of work, which is predominantly male?
Since it’s a male-dominated society and I was the lone Gup in the whole of the country, it was initially difficult to get the cooperation from other male Gups, but I have overcome that over the years. They now see me as an equal partner in decision-making and respect my views. After assuming my job, I have managed to do a lot of development work namely construction of the Gewog office, renovation of the ancient temple, construction of new farm roads, irrigation channels for the community and enabled the community to initiate farming and other cultivation.
What is your main message for the younger generation? What should they learn from your experience?
The main message that I would like to give is that everyone is equal and that being a women should not be a hindering factor for active participation. It is possible and I can say with confidence that if one is capable then even if it is a girl or boy one should participate in elections.
What is your message for other women or girls who may be inspired by your journey and achievements?
I have had a very good experience being the first female Gup in Bhutan. I would like to encourage all aspiring young girls to come forward and participate as candidates in the next local government elections.