Gender, Culture and Development:In the Paradigm of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMasters of Arts
This study of women in Bhutan is based on the country’s unique development concept known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Whereas in most countries, a western approach to development concentrates on increasing Gross Domestic Product to improve a country’s economy, Bhutan follows a different approach based on improving the general well-being of the people. The thesis argues that Bhutan has relegated Gross Domestic Product to the background where it can be used as a means to enhance “happiness” but not as an overall goal of development and that the impacts of this on women require separate study.
There are four elements that form the core of the Gross National Happiness concept: good governance, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and socio-economic development. This thesis has focused on only two elements of the GNH concept, questioning the nature of cultural preservation and socio-economic development. This is because cultural preservation is one of the areas that affects women particularly. In the path of development, many socio-economic policies inadvertently discriminate against women although their intentions are gender neutral. Thus, the overall purpose of this thesis is to explore women’s position, especially in the education sector and the impact of tradition and culture on Bhutanese women. The relationship between women in Bhutan and the government policy of preserving culture is analysed in order to determine if there is conflict between preserving culture and sustaining happiness against the backdrop of the fast pace of economic development.
The methodological approach for this thesis is both qualitative and quantitative. Because of the limited written material on Bhutan, it was important to talk to members of the public to explore general perceptions, feelings and opinions relating to government policies and the impact of development activities and culture on their lives and also to bring in unofficial perspectives. Participants consisted of twenty households in the village and twenty-two participants from the urban area to address urban/rural differences. Literacy is less in rural areas as is access to information and exposure to western influences. Official documents, newspapers, on-line discussion forums, school curricula and films were also drawn on to explore the role of culture and the impact of development policies on the Bhutanese people. The thesis concludes that cultural preservation, particularly when followed uncritically, remains a major obstacle to women’s empowerment towards achieving their development goals.