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1 November 2002 Celebrating Mountain Women: A Move to Empower Women in Mountain Regions
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Organized by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Mountain Forum (MF), “Celebrating Mountain Women: A Global Gathering in Bhutan” (CMW) took place in Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan, from 1 to 4 October 2002. Although Bhutan was an excellent location for such a conference, given the traditionally higher status of women in this country, it confronted the organizing team with a series of logistical problems that were not easy to solve. With the help of the Bhutan Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, and others, however, the conference participants from 35 different countries and 5 continents were able to enjoy the unique privilege of being hosted by a beautiful and friendly mountain country that is only accessible to relatively few foreigners every year.

A further challenge for the organizers was to offer a range of participants—from grassroots organizations to entrepreneurs, the media to development agencies, and research to policy specialists—something substantial to take home. The organizers chose to run parallel events during most of the conference, with 2 plenary sessions and several celebrations that brought the more than 250 participants together (Figure 1). Although this was a necessary choice in terms of time available, it deprived many people of the pleasure of attending screenings of mountain films, meeting with grassroots women from all over the world, spending time browsing through the remarkable variety of crafts and information leaflets that were displayed in the specially constructed exhibition area, or participating in important discussions on the 5 set themes. Nevertheless, the conference was a success in terms of networking, celebrating women's achievements, and formulating concerns and demands.

The Bhutanese people and government offered opening and closing ceremonies that gave participants a fascinating insight into identity-forming rituals and ceremonial events. The presence of the Prime Minister on the first day and of a member of the royal family on the final day confirmed the general opinion that women's concerns and gender equality are given genuine attention in Bhutan. The conference organizers wisely invited Ms. Neten Zangmo, Cabinet Secretary of the Royal Government of Bhutan, to convey the Thimphu Declaration (the main outcome of the conference) to the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit.

From empowerment to integration

This Declaration calls on the international community to include the perspectives of mountain women and the principles of gender mainstreaming and gender equality in various documents, and to ensure a strong presence of women representatives in post-International Year of Mountains (IYM) activities, especially those planned to take place under the umbrella of the International Partnership for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions—one of the main outcomes of the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Indeed, as stated in the Thimphu Declaration, without women, it is impossible to achieve sustainable development in mountain areas.

It will be necessary in future to provide the institutional and financial support needed to address women's concerns as well as to provide gender-balanced and integrated solutions. It will also be necessary to acknowledge and respect the variety of mountain communities and their culture, and to use a rights- and opportunity-based development approach. But perhaps more important at this stage, it is necessary to learn more about the status and the role of mountain women in different countries and regions in order to formulate adequate policies and projects, as the conference showed that mountain women still live under very difficult conditions in many countries, including Europe and North America. CMW also showed that mountain women have been extremely innovative, and their resilience has enabled them to survive against all odds: this, too, needs to be taken into account because it holds tremendous potential.

The 5 thematic workshops that took place during the conference and relied on a multiplicity of papers, partly available through the Mountain Forum and its Mountain Women E-mail Discussion List (, produced recommendations that are summarized in the Declaration. The recommendations focused on natural resources and environment; legal, political, and human rights; culture and indigenous knowledge; health and well-being; and entrepreneurship. The organizers announced that the process and activities of CMW will be documented in a printed report that will also be available online, a 30-minute video documentary, and profiles of mountain women at CMW. Hopefully, it will be possible to fully integrate the concerns and perspectives of women voiced at the conference during and after the ultimate IYM event, the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit.


Two evening events (and several common meals) were welcome opportunities for ethnic and stakeholder groups from 5 different continents to interact. A reception with dancing and a fashion show took place, during which many of the conference participants proudly walked the catwalk to display traditional attires crafted by mountain women. (Photo by Ujol Sherchan, 2 October 2002)

Anne B. Zimmermann "Celebrating Mountain Women: A Move to Empower Women in Mountain Regions," Mountain Research and Development 22(4), 400-401, (1 November 2002).[0400:CMWAMT]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 November 2002

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