The small, landlocked country of Bhutan lies within the Himalaya Mountain Range between India and China. It’s famous for many things, such as its traditional culture and invention of the Gross National Happiness Index. Bhutan is known for valuing happiness over anything else, and the Bhutan Association of Women’s Entrepreneurship (BAOWE) tries to help Bhutanese women achieve that.
The non-governmental, nonprofit organization’s mission is for a just and equitable society in which Bhutanese women can be successful and recognize their own strengths. They hope to give women the opportunity to be confident entrepreneurs who lead meaningful lives as responsible citizens.
In an interview with media platform Kuensel, a woman named Phub Lham spoke of the effect the organization had on her life. Lham found herself in a tough position when at the age of 58, her marriage ended and she was left with four children to care for and no qualifications for employment.
Lham started looking for a job in Thimphu, the largest city and capital of Bhutan. Thimphu is the main center of commerce, religion, and government in the country. It is also one of the few towns in Bhutan that have ATM banking facilities. It is there where Lham started selling doma, a nut that the Bhutanese people chew on.
Thimphu is a common place for street hawkers like Lham to sell merchandise that is easily transported, like snacks and food items. As a result of this, there are a number of Thimphu Thromde inspectors to monitor the hawkers. Often when the inspectors encounter the hawkers, they confiscate their goods and fine them.
This is part of the reason BAOWE stepped in. They wanted to create a different kind of environment for these women – one where they could more easily support themselves and their families. They also promote and teach women the business skills that they need.
BAOWE has initiated a few projects, like the Women-Owned Open Market Project, aimed at economically disadvantaged women like Lham in urban centers. The project provides these women with their own dignified space to sell their niche goods. There are approximately 110 women today benefiting from the Women-Owned Open Market Project.
Now Lham has better conditions in which to work. She doesn’t have to sit out in terrible weather or flee from inspectors. Lham told Kuensel, “I am happy that we don’t have to bear the harassment of the thromde inspectors nor run when we see them.”
It doesn’t stop there for BAOWE. They also created the Sustainable Rural Biomass Energy Project and the Advancing Economic Opportunity for Women and Children in Rural Areas of Zhemgang Project.
The Bhutan Association of Women’s Entrepreneurship is a step in the right direction for the Himalayan nation. It sets an example for other societies that face similar financial circumstances. It also demonstrates to women that they have the power and ability to change their lives.
Everyone benefits when women are given the skills and opportunity to work: the women themselves, the children that they raise, and society as a whole.
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