GOVERNMENT CEASE OPERATIONS OF DRAYANGS, OWNERS SEEK COMPENSATION AND EMPLOYEES SEEK JOB REPLACEMENT

Articulating the drayang businesses compromising norms and values, the government through an executive order ceases operations of all the drayangs in the country with immediate effect.

This was done through a series of reviews and consultations for over a year, and the decision comes after research, meetings, and intense consultations with various stakeholders – it came to the validation ‘drayang business is hinged on compromising norms and values’, points the executive order.

The executive order ceasing drayang operation is to acknowledge that our women working in drayangs are most vulnerable. “They are sexually objectified, subjected to stereotypes, and disparaged in communities due to the nature of their jobs,” states the executive order.

Owing to substantial earnings so far, the executive order stresses that closure of business will lead to loss of income and employment working in the business, the order tells it is for ‘the greater good’ and many in the industry will not realize it for now.

However, drayang owners are seeking compensation. The compensation they are seeking is in terms of job replacement for about 900 employees across the drayangs in the country, total investment incurred to establish and operate the business, and to support loans for drayang businesses switching to other businesses.

“We sought written directives from the government, and if we are not able to follow them we will oblige to close, we told this to the government many times,” said President of Drayang Association of Bhutan, Kelzang Phuntsho. He also added that the government had prescribed them ‘technical standards’ and we were working on it as well, we are ready to listen to the government but abrupt closure of business by the executive order tells it is ‘final and binding’ but this is not ‘final and binding’ from our side.

Bhutan TODAY spoke to numerous drayang employees and most of them expressed concern over equally paying job replacements and giving them other viable solutions.

According to a 26-year-old drayang worker with over seven years of experience in the job, she is a former manager, choreographer, and dancer, Kinley Yangden expresses ‘shock’ over the abrupt closure of drayang business. She said that this executive order says that they feel like ‘sex workers’ and that this is not agreeable.

“We are in shock and we have been waiting for so long expecting the government to come up with systematic rules and regulation so that drayangs become a better place to work,” said Kinley Yangden. “There are loopholes in drayangs but directly closing the business is not a viable solution – we thought that the government is looking into the matter and something better would come out for the benefit of individuals earning livelihoods through this work but this action made us unhappy,” she added.

She also highlighted that in her case, she was graduated and landed a job as a teacher by working in a drayang and also mentions that she was earning better as a drayang employee than as a teacher. She also said that many had invested in education, businesses, childcare and others through working in a drayang. “We cannot overshadow the benefits of drayangs with few isolated cases where some employees of drayangs failed to maintain the professionalism of the work,” she said. She also added that ‘such failures to uphold norms and values are prevalent in other workplaces too and by issuing this executive order, it indirectly tells that by closing drayangs there will be no cases of sex works in the future in the country’.

Meanwhile, she is seeking answers to the wayforward of drayang employees. “We have been earning more than Nu 100,000 a month in a drayang, and if the government gives a job replacement that can equally earn the same amount, we have no issues,” said Kinley Yangden. She further expressed grievances that ‘the government cannot expect them to sell porridge, momos and domas at night by the street to the party-goers’. “We don’t want to do this, we are skilled dancers, we have been doing this for eternity, and for some factual error the government is closing drayangs – this is government’s part of the story and not ours,” she said. “We are happy with our work, we sell dance and we get money for dance and nothing else, then we wrap up and go home, there is no funny business along the way,” she added.

“We want proper directives from the government, a proper job replacement that equally pays in a drayang for working few hours because we are engaged in drayang at night and by morning, we run other businesses and these businesses are supported by our efforts in drayang,” said the 26-year-old Kinley Yangden.

The executive order through the closure of business tells the individuals involved in the drayang business to take this opportunity for a sustainable and meaningful income-generating engagement’ and to understand the intention of closing drayang business, it was not done so to rob bread and butter. This closure, though delayed, it seeks individuals in the business to channel towards fruitful areas and opportunities before losing out on the ‘prime, productive years in their lives’ by discouraging drayang businesses. Additionally, through the executive order, the Prime Minister said: “I hope everyone agrees that doing away with drayangs and drayang-like businesses now will be a positive contribution to the nation-building process.”

With various transformations delegated by the COVID-19 and post-pandemic, this had led to many skilling and entrepreneurship programs to benefit the people. The executive order highlights the importance of skilling, reskilling, and upskilling to become 21st-century citizens, and prompts that ‘easy trades that do not require skills and talents will be forced to fade anyway’.

Accordingly, the order has directed the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources to collaborate and render necessary support to drayang operators and workers as they explore new avenues.

“We urge drayang owners and employees to seize those opportunities,” states the executive order of the Prime Minister. “I will be keen to sit with you all to explore alternatives. Though the shift will pose some challenges, I have no doubt that down the years, it would have added immense values and enriched experiences in a person’s life and also in the communities,” adds the executive order.

Meanwhile, the executive order urges the Royal Bhutan Police and Local Government leaders to support us in the swift implementation of this decision on the ground.

In this sincere effort to bring about reform, I have no doubt that the drayang owners and employees will render necessary understanding and cooperation. Since the decision comes after multiple consultations, ‘we will not entertain grievances related to re-opening drayang hereafter’, states the executive order.

But let us work together in all spheres, so that we accomplish our personal dreams and in our own small ways, become a part of the nation building process at this important juncture.

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