The disabled and marginalized ask for better policy interventions

Finance Minister pledges to bring changes where needed

On March 2, 2023, to bring attention to social protection issues faced by marginalised groups like people with disabilities, youth recovering from addiction, care-givers, and women, BCMD, in partnership with Phensem, RENEW, and Bhutan Canada Foundation, is organising an awareness campaign called #PeopleCenteredPolicy.

Members of the marginalised groups have undergone a series of Design Thinking workshops with representatives from government agencies to reflect on their situations and deliberate on policy options.

Members from the series of Design Thinking workshops addressed the Finance Minister Namgay Tshering and members of parliament about their worries and challenges throughout the event.

One of them is Wangmo, a mother of Nima Tenzin Wangdi, a child with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome.

She said that for parents with children with disabilities, the first issue is finances and for her, the issue is letting her son get a basic education.

Wangmo declared, “My kid is a student in the fourth grade at Changangkha School. Every school has its own rules, and in a Changangkha school, a student must complete their basic education by the time they are 14 years old. That is challenging for kids with disabilities, though.”

“It takes longer for parents like us to get kids to school. For instance, in my case, my son began talking at the age of 6 and beginning to walk at the age of 7 to 8. They are 9 years old by the time they start school, making it challenging for them to finish basic education,” she said.

“A child with disability will grow up to be an adult with disability,” Wangmo concluded.

She is appreciative that Changangkha school’s principal is allowing her son to continue his education there until he turns 16, but she is still concerned about his future.

Tandin Lham, a cerebral palsy patient who is 27 years old, stated, “I want to have a job.”

She explained that she resides in Thimphu with her parents and she wishes she could find work.

Leki Lhaden, a 24-year-old participant with speech impairment, is another participant. She currently owns a tailoring business.

She experienced her share of difficulties even with her current success.  She said, “I used to work any kind of job before, and at that time, even though I was working the same number of hours, I was always left out when it came to raising our salary.”

She brought up the reality that persons with disabilities are underpaid and stigmatized despite doing the same work.

She wants to encourage others to start their own businesses despite all the obstacles she has faced.

Another member from the Design Thinking Workshop echoed this sentiment when she said, “We are not different, we are all the same, and we are also people.”

“Let’s look at the skills they have,” another person addressed.

Although it was accepted that there are policies in existence, several participants felt that they are not being implemented and that many people are not aware of them.

One of them proposed expanding the application of policies at the ground-level. A rise in support programs for survivors and a proposal to issue restraining orders to abuse victims against the abuser.

Likewise, the members expressed more than 20 constructive criticisms and made policy recommendations for the agencies in question.

To reflect on their circumstances and discuss possible policies, people of marginalised groups have participated in a number of Design Thinking workshops with representatives from government organisations.

At the awareness event, the representatives of the marginalised groups shared their personal accounts of gender discrimination, challenges with social reintegration, workplace discrimination, and unequal access to education, information, and public services.

During the end of the program, Finance Minister Namgay Dorji said, “There will be no success if we look for solutions for every problem or intervention, but with a holistic approach, everyone will benefit.”

“We are pursuing in that direction,” he added.

 “Feedback needs to find the mean, median, and mode for all problems, not just individual-driven problems; look out for interventions and common problems. Isolated problems should be addressed by the policy, and if there should be any immediate changes in the policy, we should let the responsible ministry know about it, and it will be changed ad hoc,” pledged the minister.

Opposition Leader, Dorji Wangdi said that while Bhutan is blessed with inclusive and good policies, there are also deficiencies in policies as there are people with different difficulties and genuine issues.

“With development, these issues are becoming more apparent. Perhaps our policies and laws are not able to adequately address emerging issues with disabilities and LGBTQI communities. This workshop provided a useful check and was an educational forum for us. It gives us an urgent sense to address the issues,” said the OL.

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