Jigmi Wangdi 

She wanted to be independent. However, people have always looked down on her condition and treated her differently. Since she cannot work like others, sometimes she is paid less.

This is an experience of a young girl, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and who shared the struggles and challenges faced by people with disabilities (PWDs) in Bhutan. Income disparities affect most PWDs in their workplace.

The marginalised groups in the country consisting of PWDs, youth recovering from addiction, caregivers and women and the LGBTQIA+ shared their issues with the policymakers during a people-centred policy advocacy forum in Thimphu on March 2.

At the forum, the representatives of the marginalised groups presented their stories of workplace discrimination, inequalities in access to education, information and public services, gender discrimination, and social reintegration issues.

The members also share constructive feedback and made policy recommendations for consideration by concerned authorities.

A representative of the LGBTQIA+ shared the hardships of her community as well.

“Being transgender has always led to us facing discrimination. From school to our workplace. Most of the LGBTQIA+ members work in the entertainment sector because it is the only place where we can be employed,” she said.

She added that an issue that they face is regarding their CID cards. “Our CIDs state the gender of our birth, but to change that takes a very long time for us. Sometimes it takes us around four months to change our gender on the CID.”

“We are the same people inside. Just because of our exterior outlook, the way we choose to dress and talk does not make us different,” shared the representative.

Another representative of the PWDs shared a story of a young individual who wanted to join the De-suung service during the Covid-19 pandemic but owing to his disability, he could not be registered.

“Just because a person is disabled should not make them obsolete, especially when they heartily believe that they can work as same as others,” the representative said.

A mother of a child suffering from autism said that the government does not consider autism as a disability. “Most people think disabilities are only physical. That is why neurological disorders are not considered as an actual disability even in the government and because of that, we cannot get support.”

The mother shared the hardships she faces in raising her son and the financial pressure her family has faced. She highlighted that all disabilities should be considered the same, which can help them receive support from relevant government agencies.

Representatives of the marginalised groups shared that the main problem arises because of the lapses in the implementation of policies. They deliberated with the policymakers and highlighted that although there was support from most agencies, there is a major gap when it comes to ground-level implementation.

The policymakers also shared their opinions on the issues that marginalised people face.

A parliamentarian who attended the event shared that some of the issues the PWDs and parents of children with disabilities face are disheartening to hear.

“I am glad I came here today. I am hearing most of these issues for the first time and it is sad for us to say how we proudly don the title of the happiest country in the world when our citizens are going through so many problems,” the parliamentarian said.

Other government officials also shared similar sentiments and said that the forum was an eye-opener to hear the ground realities and the issues the marginalised and PWDs are facing.

The event organised by Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) aimed to create a platform where the marginalised and vulnerable people can meet the policymakers and talk about the issues they face.

Executive Director of BCMD, Chencho Lhamu (PhD) said, “We want to create a platform for people where they can represent themselves to discuss their issues, rather than us doing it for them. The focus is to make the policies with the people, not for the people.”

The event was attended by Finance Minister Namgay Tshering along with Members of Parliament, government officials and representatives of Civil Society Organisations.