Rural women transforming WASH leadership in Bhutan

At a rural outdoor location in Bhutan, a group of rural women are part of a transformative leadership workshop

Participants of the leadership training for women with disabilities in Bhutan (SNV Bhutan)


In Bhutan, a diverse group of women are harnessing their unique insights, perspectives, experiences and skills to transform water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in their communities, after recently attending leadership training through SNV Netherland Organisation's (SNV) Water for Women WASH project. The 13 women each live with disability, including hearing and vision impairments and physical disabilities. The training program was planned and delivered in Paro, in partnership with CBM Australia, Water for Women research partners at the University of Technology Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Futures, and Ability Bhutan Society (ABS), a local rights holder organisation, which also ensured participant and caregivers' travel, dietary and inclusive learning needs were appropriately supported.


The... training was extremely relevant to the participants' roles in the community. I had the chance to learn new concepts..." said one participant.


" [It] motivated us and gave us the skills required to effect change. I would like to share this training experience and urge other women with disabilities to participate in such trainings, inspiring more women to get involved in community life and encourage others to talk about their disabilities."


The training was delivered in local dialects and with consideration of how to effectively translate technical jargon into common language without losing meaning. As required, participants were also assisted with braille-transcribed training materials and by a sign language interpreter from the Wangsel Institute for the Deaf.


Sessions were structured to allow participants to ponder, communicate their ideas, and address any uncertainties they might have had, as well as share in ways they felt most comfortable - whether verbally or using written or drawn charts.


Following the training, each participant developed a personal action plan based on their interests and skills. A WhatsApp group linking participants with a wider network of Bhutanese women with disabilities was also created, and with support from ABS, a Facebook page to provide Bhutanese women with disabilities a space to raise awareness among followers of the difficulties they face. ABS currently facilitates conversations within the Facebook page; however, in time this will be run by women with disabilities and the page will also serve as a learning and development platform for them.


Bhutan is home to over 800,000 people and has one of the lowest population densities in the world. Although there has been significant progress in improving rural WASH through the national Rural Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene Program, supported by SNV since 2008, the benefits have not yet been equally felt by all. An estimated 39% of rural households still have basic unimproved sanitation services, while a further 4% have only limited services. Poor hygiene practices result in diarrhoea remaining among the top five communicable diseases in Bhutan. For those who face intersecting disadvantage - rural women and girls, people with disability and other marginalised groups - the impacts are further exacerbated.


Water for Women partners with SNV in Bhutan for the Beyond the Finish Line - Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All project, which aims to provide equitable, universal access to safely managed WASH for more than 214,500 rural Bhutanese by the end of 2022 - with a focus on gender equality, disability and social inclusion to leave no one behind. 



Learn how Water for Women partners are uniting for universal hand hygiene across the Asia-Pacific in our latest learning brief on Handwashing Behaviour Change

A blue graphic with the words 'Just launched' and a thumbnail of the cover of a HWS learning Brief

Water for Women supports the voice and agency of rural women and other marginalised groups by placing them at the centre of WASH decision-making. This leads to more equitable and inclusive systems, and more effective and sustainable WASH outcomes and practices - including handwashing with soap. Without this, we can’t achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 – clean water and sanitation for all - upon which all 17 goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development rely. As we move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic - a time when heightened hand hygiene helped to protect us all - let's not lose the momentum. Now is the time to unite for universal hand hygiene by ensuring sustainable WASH access for all.


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