Enhancing economic empowerment of Persons with Disabilities

As per the 2017 Population and Housing Census, 2.1% of Bhutan’s population, or 15,567 Bhutanese, live with some

With an aim to enhance economic empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), the Disabled People’s Organization (DPO) with support from the UNDP and KOICA provided equipment support to 45 PwDs to enable them to start group businesses on October 7.  

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, which is run by 7 PwDs and provides music tuition.

Meanwhile, the PwDs engaged in the group businesses recently received training in various vocational and entrepreneurial skills initiated by the DPO in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR).  

To help them immediately utilize the newly acquired skills, the UNDP and KOICA provided musical instruments, tailoring, and bakery equipment to the group. The support includes a set of candy manufacturing equipment, a bakery, and musical instruments, and 17 tailoring sets. The equipment support is expected to help them kick-start their businesses.

“We will prove that PwDs can work and lead independent lives like any other person given an opportunity,” said Dawa Dema said, who is one of the members of the Lhagoe Tailoring and has hearing difficulty.

She said that the skills she has acquired and the business that she wants to start will enable her as well as her friends to stand up on their own feet. “I acknowledge the UNDP and KOICA for providing 17 tailoring sets of equipment to the group,” she added.

A member of the candy business, who has vision problems, Kuenga Dorji, 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.”

Meanwhile, the joint project aligns with the National Policy for Person with Disabilities in Bhutan, which calls for the enhancement of the economic security of the PwDs by equipping them with vocational and entrepreneurial skills and providing an accessible workplace.

The initiative, it is hoped, will not only encourage and uplift the lives of the 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.

 DPO’s Executive Director 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 independent lives.

“We want to change this negative perception through this project and contribute towards building a truly inclusive society where the PwDs are economically empowered and ensure their rights are respected and realized,” he said.

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% of the households surveyed have someone with a physical and mental disability.

The findings indicated the compounded risk for households with vulnerable members and called for prioritization and targeted support to protect them and cater to their unique needs.

As per the 2017 Population and Housing Census, 2.1% of Bhutan’s population, or 15,567 Bhutanese, live with some forms of disability.

UNDP’s Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said the 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 programs to enhance employability of the PwDs and ensuring the sustainability of initiatives led by them. Such programs could include facilitated access to financing with favorable interest rates and tailored vocational training,” she said.

She said that a life cycle-based social protection system for people with disabilities will also allow them to be more risk-taking and take up start-up and entrepreneurship opportunities.

The Program Coordinator said that the KOICA supports achieving gender equality and building an inclusive society that leaves no one behind.

“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 in economic activities.”

As part of the joint initiative, “Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities”, DPO, Gross National Happiness Commission, UNDP, and KOICA came together to launch group businesses run by PWDs on Thursday. 

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu