A disability-inclusive water, sanitation, and hygiene future for Bhutan

Photo participants decision-making and planning activity

SNV in Bhutan’s collaboration with Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) and Disabled People’s Organisation of Bhutan (DPAB) started in 2015. In the beginning, we partnered on research. Together, we explored what made it difficult for people with disabilities in rural Bhutan to use toilets or wash their hands with soap. Today, we do not only conduct joint research to guide different types of sanitation and hygiene adaptions or technologies. Importantly, we are making sure that people with disabilities have a say in decision-making and planning over water, sanitation, and hygiene services and systems.

‘Nothing about us, without us’

‘Nothing about us, without us’ is a popular disability advocacy slogan of self-empowerment and self-determination adopted by disability advocates in South Africa in the 1980s.[1]

We receive guidance from CBM Australia; an organisation working on disability inclusion. Our partnership with ABS and DPAB is mutually beneficial. We benefit from the advice of ABS and DPAB in designing WASH systems that do not exclude people. Thanks to ABS and DPAB our own understanding of disability is expanding.

In turn we strengthen DPOs’ capacities to participate and lead in WASH decision-making forums. We enhance their capacity to undertake research. We coach DPOs on how to use the results of their research to influence policy outcomes and programming.[2]

People in decision-making positions – including in government – do not always know how to effectively contribute to disability inclusion. Our partnership with the Ministry of Health and local health departments is strengthening authorities and staff know-how to collaborate with local DPOs.

Photo presenter decision-making and planning activity
Photo participants decision-making and planning activity

A partnership that delivers

DPO representatives now contribute to the WASH development and inclusion agenda in Bhutan. Both at local and national levels.

The disability data of ABS has been found to be far more comprehensive than the health sectors in districts. According to the Chief of PHED in the Ministry of Health, the ABS database offered a more complete picture of disabilities – the visible and the invisible. Moreover, the database included a contact list of carers of people with disabilities.

For the ABS Executive Director, collaboration with SNV increased leaders’ awareness about disability inclusion in WASH. ABS is now a key player in the national WASH arena and a member of the National WASH Technical Working Group, led by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement.

ABS staff also joined SNV and PHED staff during door-to-door sanitation and hygiene promotion visits. For people with disabilities, it made a huge difference to speak with someone who shares similar challenges. Because of ABS’ presence, many households were convinced to upgrade their toilets. Similarly, governments have also started the upgrade and construction of new disability-inclusive sanitation and hygiene facilities in public areas.

A long-term partnership

ABS’ rise into a leadership role did not happen overnight. It took three years of intentional engagement and commitment; by ABS, SNV, and government partners.

The partnership continues and remains strong. We want to see disability-inclusive toilets in every public toilet block. We want DPOs to continue engaging meaningfully in WASH decision-making and planning. To sustain these, we need to make sure that it becomes second nature for any decision-maker – at home and in public – to seek out the wisdom of people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are active agents of change. They are ready and willing to participate.

[1] Read about the origins of the slogan from this blog.
[2] To date, SNV's WASH work in Bhutan is generously supported by the Australian Government's Water for Women Fund (WfW). Click to learn more about SNV's work in Bhutan. To view the range of WfW projects in Asia and the Pacific, visit their website.

Photos by: Ugyen Rinzen, SNV in Bhutan

For more information about SNV in Bhutan's disability inclusion work in WASH, contact Tshering Choden by email.