Yangyel Lhaden

Covid-19 is one emergency today. There could be many more in the future.

How must the nation prepare?

There are people who have lost jobs because of the pandemic. Then there are those whose life styles have changed overnight. Movement restrictions have reportedly increased gender-based violence (GBV) in these Covid-19 times.

In such circumstances, how are persons with disabilities coping? So, to build frontline group to respond to challenges such as rising gender-based violence, Ability Bhutan Society, Draktsho, Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB), and National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and The United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) conducted a three-day disability equality workshop in Thimphu from July 1 to 3.

The workshop included training frontline personnel to deal with persons with blindness, physical disability, hearing loss, and intellectual disability.

The participants were educated and made aware of the difficulties persons with disabilities and victims of gender-based violence faced, appropriate ways to render help, and usage of appropriate terminologies. The participants were trained both theoretically and practically.

The participants included Members of Parliament, educationists, and health workers.

Sonam Gyamtsho, Executive Director of DPAB, said that this training was critically important to train the frontline personnel as the professionals who know best about the subject are not there during such situations.

The training

The correct terminology to use when referring to persons with disabilities include usage of person as subject, followed by their disabilities.

In the quarantine facility, for example, person with blindness should be explained in detail verbally about the room arrangement and food and drink placement should be directed to them according to clockwise direction. The medicines should be bottled in different shape and size of containers.

A person with hearing loss should be given a whistle for signals. The frontline personnel should use hand gestures and facial expression when communicating with them. Phones could also be used to convey messages. The participants were also taught basic Bhutanese sign language.

Kuenga Loday, a member of National Assembly, said that the persons with hearing loss mainly faced problem in communication and, if sign language was incorporated in school syllabus and learnt by everyone, person with hearing loss would no longer be considered disable.

Karma Wangchuk, a participant from Physiotherapy Department from JDWNRH, said that learning Bhutanese sign language was very helpful which would not only help deal with persons in difficult situations but also help communicate with patients.

The participants were also trained to support persons using wheelchair, to identify behavioural traits of persons with intellectual disability, and equip them with skills to meaningfully engage persons with intellectual disability.

Tshering Yangdon, occupational therapist with JDWNRH, said that it was challenging to deal patients with intellectual disability. She said that one of her patients was suffering from autism and was visually impaired too. This workshop to train frontline personnel was absolutely necessary, she said.

Lhaki Dolma, a member of National Council, said that she expected this workshop to only be about awareness and advocacy. She said that after the workshop she became more sensitive with persons with disabilities and their issues.

She also said that as a Member of Parliament, if there is any proposal made regarding difficulties faced by persons with disabilities, she would be able to weigh and make correct judgment of the issue.

SOP for GBV prevention and response

SOP for gender-based violence includes guideline for the front-line responders and non-specialised GBV service providers to adopt the survivor-centered approach while responding to GBV survivors to protect them from further harm.

The frontline personnel should not interrogate with “why” questions with GBV victims, try to give professional advices unless they are trained about it, and offer one’s own advice or opinion.

However, frontline personnel were trained to provide a safe environment, ensure survivors’ confidentiality and privacy. Healing statements such as “you are very brave to talk with me”, “I am glad that you told me”, “I’m sorry this happened to you” are encouraged to be use.

Azusa Kubota, UNDP Resident Representative, said that Covid-19 pandemic gave rise to another pandemic called gender-based violence.

Although not as brutal as reported in other countries, NCWC, saw an increase in domestic violence cases in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

NCWC received 47 cases between January and April this year from Thimphu alone regarding women who needed immediate support like counseling, shelter and legal advice.