Understanding Fundamental Rights: a Legal Literacy Training for HIV Key Populations in Bhutan

By December 14, 2023 December 18th, 2023 SKPA

Kesang Tshokey
Gender and Human Rights Coordinator (HRGC)
Save the Children Bhutan

HIV/AIDS is a pressing global health challenge that affects Bhutan as well, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), people living with HIV (PLHIV), people who use drugs (PWUD), female sex workers (FSW) and transgender people (TG). Despite Bhutan’s commitment to universal health care and human rights values, challenges such as stigma and discrimination within the health sector and lack of ease of access to appropriate health services continue to exist. Overcoming these hurdles requires sustained efforts in education, awareness, and stakeholder engagement. Emphasizing that HIV/AIDS is a concern for everyone, not just specific groups, underscores the need for widespread awareness, education, and support to drive meaningful progress.

Save the Children Bhutan SKPA-2 works with local key population organizations (KPOs) including Pride Bhutan, Queer Voices of Bhutan, Lhaksam and Chithuen Phendey Association, to build the capacity of KPOs to deliver services to marginalised individuals, fostering a collaborative approach to community wellbeing. 

As a part of the SKPA-2 key objectives, Save the Children Bhutan organised legal literacy training for 40 KPO members in Paro District from August – September 2023.  The training aimed to engage KPOs, to provide education on their fundamental and human rights under the Constitution of Bhutan. It also facilitated discussions among KPs, addressing prevalent issues and challenges within their communities, with a particular focus on stigma and discrimination across various settings, including healthcare. 

The training included specific domains such as police protocols and the rights of key populations with reference to international human rights treaties. This provided participants with opportunities to not only recognize their fundamental rights but also stimulate productive dialogues aimed at advocating the enhancement of legal structures within the nation. Pre and post assessment of the training indicated that there was a 24.15% improvement in the knowledge of legal rights for KPOs. The training program was also designed with the goal of ensuring that participants could subsequently educate their respective communities using an easily comprehensible legal literacy handbook. 

Testimonials from participants:

“Really enjoyed the training and we would like to encourage more participation from our communities in the next round.” 

“We need to encourage all participants to speak and represent their own communities during the presentations. For example, MSMs will be in a better position to present on issues and laws pertaining to MSMs and share real life stories.” 

“Policy dialogues with parliamentarians and lawmakers is the only way we can amend the legal system.” 

The training included learning about both international and national legal frameworks including, the The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan (2008), which prohibits discrimination on various grounds such as gender and sexual orientation, as well as the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act of Bhutan (2015) which focuses on drug control and preventive measures, and universal healthcare policy for free and equal healthcare.  

Conclusively, legal awareness is of paramount importance for HIV key populations in Bhutan, for several compelling reasons. It empowers individuals such as female sex workers to understand and exercise their rights, safeguards them from stigma and discrimination and guarantees equal access to healthcare services. The legal literacy training for HIV key populations represents the initial phase in the broader endeavour of educating the wider community. Once key populations possess a stronger understanding of their fundamental rights and the legal safeguards are in place, they can actively initiate dialogues with relevant stakeholders, including policy makers, law enforcement, media representatives and health care providers. This offers an excellent opportunity to foster collaborative efforts toward a unified approach towards the prevention of HIV/AIDS and addressing associated human rights challenges.

 Published on: 14-Dec-2023

About the Contributor

Kesang Tshokey

Gender and Human Rights Coordinator (HRGC)
Save the Children Bhutan

Kesang Tshokey is the HRG Coordinator for SKPA 2, while also serving as a member of Safeguarding for the Accountability and Safeguarding Working Group with Save the Children Bhutan. Prior to the current role, Kesang Tshokey used to work as a Program Officer with the National Commission for Women and Children under the Royal Government of Bhutan.

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