Making Society Fair, Just and Equitable for Indigenous Women with Disabilities in Nepal
December 31, 2023
KATHMANDU, Nepal – There are 700,000 Indigenous women and girls with disabilities in Nepal. Violence against this group is rife and has deepened since the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 study reports that negative beliefs about disability and a lack of awareness about the rights of Indigenous women and persons with disabilities in Nepal are some of the reasons why they are at a high risk of violence.
DJP Fellow Bhawana Majhi interviews Pratima Gurung, an internationally renowned disability rights activist and the president of the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association – Nepal (NIDWAN), to dig deeper into these issues and how NIDWAN is addressing them.
Question: What inspired you to establish NIDWAN?
Answer: NIDWAN was established in 2015, after the post-earthquake situation, when adolescent Indigenous girls and women with disabilities had to face discrimination and violence that arose within the private and the public spheres. They had to spend [nearly] nine months in an open space and face different kinds of violence, such as domestic violence, language-based violence, economic and cultural violence [because their rights are not recognized by the state]. In education, civil services and other official work, Indigenous languages are not recognized. Indigenous women are insulted for their attire and denied their traditional livelihoods by imposing restrictions on them and criminalizing their occupations. Name-calling, insulting, harassment and stereotyping on the basis of their physical and ethnic attributes are common.
NIDWAN was established with a mission to unite young Indigenous women and girls with disabilities to make society fair, just and equitable for them.
Question: How does NIDWAN contribute to raising awareness among individuals with disabilities about their rights?
Answer: We primarily work at three levels. The first one is reaching an individual through membership. The second strategy is that we have our movement at the provincial level to work within the seven provinces of Nepal. And this is where the grassroots women, including Indigenous peoples with disabilities, can be part of those provincial networks. At the federal level also, we have those structures. And within these three structures, we try to reach Indigenous people and women with disabilities through membership, by building their capacity, by bringing them to the public domain and [making them aware] of their rights. We try to sensitize and [make them aware of] the rights of Indigenous peoples, on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), on the rights of Indigenous persons with disabilities related [to] the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). So, with these international instruments which Nepal has already ratified, we collectively build and create a very conducive and enabling space so they can express the challenges that they face in their day-to-day lives. And this is where we try to connect with them and amplify their voices.
Question: What are the challenges faced by people with various types of disabilities in Nepal?
Answer: If you look at the data in Nepal, people with disabilities comprise 2.2 percent of the total population. The fundamental challenge that [they] are facing is access [to] fundamental rights. We also find challenges related with disaggregated data, information, violence and discrimination. Access to justice and access to government services are major challenges. [In the recent past] they have also been facing challenges [because of] climate change disasters. Challenges related to lack of resources, data information, academic research and also the regular policy and advocacy from the organizations of people with disabilities (OPDs), meaningful participation and engagement of people with disabilities in decision making also [exist].
Question: What efforts has NIDWAN put in to address these challenges and create positive change?
Answer: NIDWAN has been working at the grassroots level, [which] is related [to] movement building. We have been working with OPDs, Indigenous peoples’ organizations, women’s organizations, [nationally] and in the states. We are also working with the UN agencies. We are generating evidence-based advocacy related [to] the lived experience of Indigenous peoples with disabilities. We are also working in different thematic areas that are related with environmental disaster, inclusive education, right to health, right to employment and other kinds of access and services.
Question: What are NIDWAN’s future plans?
Answer: NIDWAN’s future plans involve reaching more people, building capacity and empowering Indigenous women and girls with disabilities. We aim to address challenges like violence and discrimination while focusing on areas such as disaster resilience, education, healthcare and employment opportunities. Our ultimate goal is to create positive change by persisting in lobbying and advocacy efforts at local and provincial levels.
DJP Fellow Bhawana Majhi is an intern at the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association – Nepal (NIDWAN) and is actively engaged in contributing to national-level meetings, workshops, and training sessions on behalf of the organization.
News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice
Often dismissed as individual problems, mental health issues are societal issues, says Srijana KC, a psychosocial counselor at the Nepali non-profit KOSHISH. Growing up, KC experienced mental health challenges due to a seizure disorder. Because of discrimination in school and the workplace, she become a street vendor to pay for her medication. At KOSHISH, she facilitates peer support groups across various regions of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.
Over the summer the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”
DJP mentor Kishor Sharma is known for his long-term photography and film projects exploring community and change. Over the last 12 years, he has been documenting the nomadic Raute people in mountainous Nepal. With any project, Sharma aims to actively engage participants, sharing photography and videography techniques. In September, Sharma became a mentor to DJP fellow Chhitup Lama. He was eager to connect “this idea of sharing the visual technique with the storytelling idea and the issue of disability inclusion.”
Recent flooding in Rwanda has left many persons with disabilities without homes and jobs. “Sincerely speaking, I [am] left with nothing,” says Theophile Nzigiyimana, who considers himself lucky to have escaped the flooding. The flooding demonstrates the disproportionate impacts that disasters have on persons with disabilities, which will only intensify as climate change continues.
DJP Fellow Sita Sah interviews Neera Adhikari about starting the Blind Women Association Nepal (BWAN) and the steps BWAN has taken to advance the rights of Nepali women who are blind and low-vision. Women with disabilities, particularly those living in rural areas, “face discrimination from family and society which prevents them from venturing outside their homes,” says Adhikari. “In a household where there are two children, one disabled son and one daughter, societal beliefs often favor sending the son to school while neglecting the daughter’s education.”
Nepal has between 250,000 and one million Deaf people, but most do not attend school. In many schools for Deaf individuals, education ends at 10th grade, and higher education is rarely available and often inadequate. DJP Fellow Bishwamitra Bhitrakoti interviews Satya Devi Wagle from the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal about the strategies, challenges and successes of her work on inclusive education. “Because hearing teachers are not competent in sign language, there is no quality instruction in a resource class in Nepal,” she says. “We are working … to create a Deaf-friendly curriculum.”