Media recently reported on the various challenges that drayang workers face. Everyone is aware that when one thinks of drayangs, the image that comes to mind is of dingy, smoky rooms where women are either being pimped or the women themselves act in questionable and sexually blatant manners, by choice or otherwise.
The drayang workers reported being harassed by customers and their wives. They also reported being vulnerable to taxi drivers with little or no intervention from the police.
Now the shocker: Respect Educate and Empower Women (RENEW), a NGO that is supposed to be the torchbearer of women’s rights and protection in the country says that drayangs “should be treated like any other form of employment.”
Have we stooped so low? Cannot we do better?
Records with the Department of Industry of the Ministry of Economic Affairs reveal that, as of December 31, 2015, eight discotheques, 14 drayangs, 32 karaoke bars, 29 snooker rooms and 666 bars were operational in Thimphu alone. The rest of the dzongkhags have 12 discotheques, 31 drayangs, 112 karaoke bars and 111 snooker rooms.
What message are we sending our society? That drinking (when alcoholism is a major vice), and sexual permissiveness especially when you have a family back home (and divorce rate is shooting up), is okay?
We understand that the majority of women who work in drayangs come from rural, economically challenged backgrounds and they claim to love singing and dancing. However, if we do a cost-benefit analysis, implications would be huge.
We are teaching vulnerable women that it is okay to settle for “jobs” where they could be sexually exploited and harmed. Should we instead not try to alleviate their condition by providing alternatives like better access to education and facilities? Provide them jobs which not only society will respect but through which they will learn to respect themselves?
Cannot we groom them into the self-reliant, proud, empowered women they were meant to be instead of shoveling them into drayangs through faulty policies, decisions and advocacy, and then try to do damage control when the ills could have been prevented in the first place?
More employment opportunities that respect women and their sexuality should be made readily available, and awareness created on the ills of dropping off school and joining such workplaces which offer them little dignity or protection.
While our men have a duty to act honorably even in places like drayangs, it is for a given that drayangs are thriving ground for temptations galore especially when one is under the influence of alcohol, raucous crowds and giddy music.
However, what we can do is educate women, especially from marginalized backgrounds, to excel in areas, which would require that innate strengths like emotional and intellectual quotient or manual skills are put to optimal use.
How about we open more training and educational centers to equip our women with practical skills and knowledge than more drayangs and bars? This might seem like a tedious process, but everything worthy most often starts small and starts slow. The reward would be an entire paradigm shift, the socioeconomic chain notwithstanding.
The government is well aware that drinking is a problem in the country: Liver complications take the top spot among killer non-communicable diseases but we persist issuing bar licenses.
We are also aware that snooker rooms and discotheques are breeding ground for many social evils that affect youth such as substance abuse, gang fights and wastage of resources including time and money. But there again seems to be little or no curtailing and monitoring of the same.
Drayangs can cause women to be susceptible not only to harassment but also trigger a ripple of damage effects like erosion of trust in family relations, extramarital affairs, sexually transmitted diseases, and tainted reputations among others: all these while the society and authorities watch on merrily: of course, this is an “acceptable” means of employment!
We know drayang workers are also working: they are supporting themselves and families back home, but the issue is not that.
The issue is: why would we want women to work in a place where they are objectified when we can empower them to be employed in alternative occupations that would not victimize or shame them; where they would have the avenue to earn and live, dignity intact.
Women are one of the strongest species on earth and given time and proper investment, they can overcome and move mountains.
Just give them required channels for their energy, drive and determination. They will prove that they deserve more than drayangs!