While on socioeconomic journey, several sections of the society have been left behind. Our planners and policy makers call them, the vulnerable.
The young and the old, the differently-abled and the unemployed, the orphans and the destitute, the drayang employees and the survivors of domestic violence are among the 14 vulnerable groups identified for targeted policy intervention. This diverse group of population are a reflection of our society. While identifying them as vulnerable may help in addressing their incapacities in terms of policies and programmes, we must understand that categorising them as vulnerable comes with the risk of stereotyping them.
Given their susceptibility to myriad forms of vulnerabilities, we must be clear with the intent of categorising them as vulnerable. Is it to protect or empower?
While the recent assessment provides important information on the state of our vulnerable population, there is a need to go further. Besides analysing vulnerability by sub-populations, information by the types of vulnerability could help sharpen the focus of targeted intervention. Is gender and cultural norms a factor? If economic vulnerability is common to all 14 groups, we may have to revisit our poverty reduction programmes.
The assessment was done to fulfil the requirement of the 11th Plan, which is almost over. It is the civil society organisations that are engaged in addressing the deprivations of the vulnerable groups.
What then has the government done for these vulnerable groups? Despite initiatives, unemployment remains the biggest challenge for Bhutan today.
That more than 70 percent of young men and women spend more than a year looking for employment is a reminder to our policymakers that we have not done well on this front. We consider the completion of studies as a sign of empowerment and readiness to join the workforce, not vulnerability. But with graduates awaiting employment, unemployed youth are now among the vulnerable groups. When the country’s future is among the vulnerable groups, the society must be concerned. We must ask what happened.
The country’s achievement, especially on the economic front is hollowed if this is the state of the society’s most vulnerable. Their invisibility makes them unequal partners in terms of power relations and decision-making. With elections nearing, there are high chances of them becoming visible and their deprivations being exploited. Even the non – vulnerable, if there is something like that, find it challenging to escape the spectacle of politics.
Whether identifying the vulnerable evokes a sense of duty among policy makers to protect or empower is yet to be seen. But with a start made, it is hoped that these assessments inform the 12th Plan. Without plans and policies for the vulnerable to catch up with the rest of the society, the 12th Plan would not be people –centric. But then, we have always been good at making plans. The challenge is with implementation.