As part of the joint initiative, “Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities”, the Disabled People’s Organisation of Bhutan (DPOB), Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), UNDP and KOICA came together on 7 October to launch group businesses run by Persons with Disabilities (PwDs). The businesses include a bakery called Healthy Options in Motithang run by 15 PwDs, Lhagoe Tailoring in Olakha, operated by another group of 17 PwDs, a candy production house in Hongkong Market area run by 6 PwDs and Kuenphel Entertainment in Pamtsho. Run by 7 PwDs, the Kuenphel Entertainment will provide music tuition.
The PwDs engaged in the group businesses recently received trainings in various vocational and entrepreneurial skills through trainings initiated by the Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. To help them immediately utilize the newly acquired skills, UNDP and KOICA provided musical instruments, tailoring and bakery equipment to the group. The support includes a set of candy manufacturing equipment, bakery and musical instruments, and 17 tailoring sets. The equipment support will help them kickstart their businesses.
Dawa Dema, a member of Lhagoe Tailoring who is hard of hearing said the skill will enable her as well as her friends to stand up on their own feet. “We will prove that persons with disabilities can work and lead independent lives like any other person given an opportunity.”
In the same vein, Kuenga Dorji, a member of the candy business who has blindness said creating gainful employment opportunities for persons with disabilities is important. “It enables us to be independent and reduce the social burden we place on our families and society.”
The joint project aligns with the National Policy for Person with Disabilities in Bhutan, which calls for enhancement of economic security of the PwDs by equipping them with vocational and entrepreneurial skills and providing accessible workplace.
The initiative will not only encourage and uplift the lives PwDs but also substantially contribute towards efforts to integrate them into the labour market. It will also help in the elimination of stigma, discrimination and exclusion facing the differently abled community. According to the Bhutan Vulnerability Baseline Assessment 2016, pervasive negative attitude, such as stigma, discrimination and exclusion remains a major challenge facing the PwDs.
The Executive Director of DPO, Sonam Gyamtsho said this project is expected to bring a big shift in the way both PwDs themselves as well as the society see persons with disabilities. PwDs are often seen as not capable of working and leading an independent life. “We want to change this negative perception through this project and contribute towards building a truly inclusive society where the persons with disabilities are economically empowered and ensure their rights are respected and realised.”
The project is timely. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the economic vulnerabilities of PwDs. According to the “Rapid Socio- Economic Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on Tourism Sector in Bhutan”, conducted in April 2020 by the National Statistics Bureau and UNDP, many households have a vulnerable member, and 3 percent of the household surveyed have someone with physical and mental disability. The findings indicate the compounded risk for households with vulnerable members and calls for prioritization and targeted support to protect them and cater to their unique needs.
As per the 2017 Population and Housing Census, 2.1 percent of Bhutan’s population, or 15,567 Bhutanese, live with some form of disabilities. The Resident Representative (RR) of UNDP, Azusa Kubota said true test of the GNH society is that the vulnerable segment of the society is not left behind and that they are given equal access to tap into their full potential in every aspect of life.
“We must do more in terms of coming up with targeted programmes to enhance employability of the PwDs and ensuring sustainability of initiated led by them. Such programmes could include facilitated access to financing with favorable interest rates and tailored vocational training. A life cycle based social protection system for people with disability will also allow them to be more risk-taking and take up start-up and entrepreneurship opportunities.”
“KOICA supports achieving gender equality and building an inclusive society that leaves no one behind,” the Program Coordinator of KOICA Bhutan Worlds Friends Eunkyoung Koh said. “The pandemic has posed economic challenges to many people especially people with disabilities. We hope there will be more opportunities for them, particularly women and girls with disabilities to participate economic activities.”
Ms. Dechen Wangmo, Communications Analyst, UNDP Bhutan, Mobile: +975 1734 3086, Email: email@example.com