Skip to main content
Neera Adhikari types on a computer at her desk.
“Families tend to keep their disabled daughters confined to the house with the intention of providing them with a safe environment,” says Neera Adhikari, “but this restricts their ability to be self-sufficient and independent.”

News

‘Leadership Training is a Key Focus’

Building the Capacity of Women with Visual Disabilities in Nepal

January 3, 2024

Translated from Nepali.

KATHMANDU, Nepal – According to Nepal’s 2021 Census, 2.2% of the population has some kind of disability. Among those, 5.37% are estimated to be blind and 16.88% low-vision.

And yet, there is a low awareness about disability rights, specifically disabled women’s rights. As a result, there is a gap in disaggregated data and research on gender and disability, excluding women with disabilities from several government policies and programs.

DJP Fellow Sita Sah interviews disability rights activist Neera Adhikari about the challenges faced by women with disabilities in Nepal.

Adhikari is the undersecretary of the Department of Women and Children under the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens in Nepal. She is the founder-president of the Blind Women Association Nepal (BWAN) and is currently associated with the organization as an advisor. In this edited interview, she shares her views on the steps taken by BWAN to advance the rights of women who are blind and low-vision in Nepal.

Question: What motivated you to start Blind Women Association Nepal? 

Answer: I joined the Nepal Association of the Blind (NAB) as a member, started the leadership, and recognized the needs and issues faced by women with visual disabilities. The challenges and violence faced by visually impaired women motivated me to work for this marginalized group. With some help from my colleagues at NAB, I started BWAN to work for their upliftment.

Question: What is our society’s perception towards women with disabilities in our country?

Answer: The situation for women with disabilities living in urban areas is somewhat better, but for those residing in rural areas, it is still quite challenging. They often face discrimination from family and society which prevents them from venturing outside their homes. 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, perpetuating biases.

Families tend to keep their disabled daughters confined to the house with the intention of providing them with a safe environment, but this restricts their ability to be self-sufficient and independent. Consequently, these women face limitations in their personal growth and leadership development.

In various aspects such as education, healthcare and employment, women with disabilities are lagging compared to disabled men.

Question: Which programs for rural women with disabilities has BWAN organized? How effective were they?

Answer: BWAN has organized targeted programs in rural areas in coordination with other friends, focusing on women with disabilities. While we’ve established committees in several districts, challenges persist in providing consistent support due to staffing and training constraints. Our efforts to assist vulnerable women with disabilities involved in [court cases, such as those involving sexual harassment, rape and property rights,] have seen progress, but sustaining their daily needs remains a challenge. Awareness programs have been delayed because our organization is small and we have a limited budget. We recognize the importance of these programs and are actively exploring creative solutions to [launch and conduct] them effectively within our resources.

Question: Could you talk about the rehabilitation center that the Blind Women Association Nepal has opened for women with visual impairments? 

Answer: BWAN has established [a rehabilitation center] at Gaurigunj, Chitwan, in contract with a blind woman in her residence. With financial support from the provincial government, we have conducted various self-employment-based training programs, including snack-making and Phenyl (a brand of bathroom disinfectant) production. Additionally, this year, we organized mobility training, soap making, home science, and other activities. Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) training was also provided to both college-going and uneducated girls and women with vision impairments.

Our primary objective was to offer shelter to homeless women with vision impairments and to provide a secure environment for those who have experienced sexual harassment, abuse, violence and rape. The center serves as a shelter for these vulnerable individuals, aiming to address the challenges they face and provide the necessary support. Unfortunately, the financial limitations have forced us to discontinue the center, impacting our ability to extend vital assistance to those in need.

Question: What challenges do visually impaired women face in employment, especially in the private sector and foreign institutions? How are these challenges being addressed, and what solutions have been implemented? 

Answer: Visually impaired women encounter significant obstacles in employment, particularly in the private sector and foreign institutions due to misconceptions and lack of accessibility. Employers often hesitate to hire them, citing concerns about their disability and limited capabilities. Efforts to bridge this gap have been limited, with issues like lack of accessible technology and awareness persisting.

In terms of solutions, BWAN is advocating for policy changes and conducting gap analyses with policymakers. We’re also focusing on economic upliftment through initiatives like capacity-building training, scholarships, and emergency funds. Plans are underway to establish a crisis management center addressing the unique needs of visually impaired women. Leadership training is a key focus for women with disabilities.

Sita Sah has over five years of professional experience spanning various sectors and NGOs and has most recently served as a project assistant at the Blind Women Association Nepal (BWAN) since February 2022. Alongside her professional pursuits, Sah is deeply passionate about creative writing, particularly short stories and poems. She finds solace in sad songs and enjoys reading novels in her leisure time.

News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice

A photo montage of inaccessible voting places across the US.

Barriers to the Ballot

Despite legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, barriers at the polls still hinder — and often prevent — people with disabilities from voting. New restrictive laws in some states, such as criminalizing assistance with voting, exacerbate these issues. Advocacy groups continue to fight for improved accessibility and increased voter turnout among disabled individuals, emphasizing the need for multiple voting options to accommodate diverse needs. ““Of course, we want to vote,” says Claire Stanley with the American Council of the Blind, “but if you can’t, you can’t.”

Read more about Barriers to the Ballot

A collage of photos showing inaccessible polling stations.

Democracy Denied

In 2024, a record number of voters worldwide will head to the polls, but many disabled individuals still face significant barriers. In India, inaccessible electronic voting machines and polling stations hinder the ability of disabled voters to cast their ballots independently. Despite legal protections and efforts to improve accessibility, systemic issues continue to prevent many from fully participating in the world’s largest democracy. “All across India, the perception of having made a place accessible,” says Vaishnavi Jayakumar of Disability Rights Alliance, “is to put a decent ramp at the entrance and some form of quasi-accessible toilet.”

Read more about Democracy Denied

An illustration of DJP fellow Esther Suubbi and some of her peers.

Triumph Over Despair

DJP Fellow Esther Suubi shares her journey of finding purpose in supporting others with psychosocial disabilities. She explores the transformative power of peer support and her evolution to becoming an advocate for mental health. “Whenever I see people back on their feet and thriving, they encourage me to continue supporting others so that I don’t leave anyone behind,” she says. “It is a process that is sometimes challenging, but it also helps me to learn, unlearn, and relearn new ways that I can support someone – and myself.”

Read more about Triumph Over Despair

Daniel Mushimiyimana from the Rwanda Union of the Blind, sits in a row of chairs at a conference.

‘Our Vote Matters’

As Rwanda prepares for its presidential elections, voices like Daniel Mushimiyimana’s have a powerful message: every vote counts, including those of citizens with disabilities. Despite legal frameworks like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, challenges persist in translating these into practical, accessible voting experiences for over 446,453 Rwandans with disabilities. To cast a vote, blind people need to take a sighted relative to read the ballot. An electoral committee member must be present, violating the blind person’s voting privacy. “We want that to change in these coming elections,” says Mushimiyimana.

Read more about ‘Our Vote Matters’

Srijana KC smiles at the camera. She has long dark hair and is wearing a red scarf and green cardigan sweater.

Voices Unsilenced

Often dismissed as a personal concern, mental health is a societal issue, according to Srijana KC, who works as a psychosocial counselor for the Nepali organization KOSHISH. KC’s own history includes a seizure disorder, which resulted in mental health challenges. She faced prejudice in both educational settings and the workplace, which pushed her towards becoming a street vendor to afford her medications. Now with KOSHISH, she coordinates peer support gatherings in different parts of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.

Read more about Voices Unsilenced

Three fellows with the Disability Justice Project stand behind their cameras in a room. One is blind and one is low vision.

Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Last 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.”

Read more about Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch