Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities in Nepal are caught in endless poverty cycle. They need to be rescued from that trap
There are several debates around the relationship between disability and poverty and on ways to address the needs of people with disabilities living in extreme forms of poverty. Increasingly, development practitioners and poverty experts have emphasized the multifaceted approach in understanding disability and developing strategies to minimize rampant poverty among disabled persons living in developing countries. This article discusses the nexus between poverty and disability that renders people with disabilities the poorest among the poor and discusses ways to include them in development programs in Nepal.
Various studies have shown that poverty and disability are intricately related. Several years after the ratification of the United Nations Conventions on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty in comparison to those without disabilities. This compelling fact masks other important differences in the poverty rate among vulnerable groups—such as women, people living in extreme poverty, people with lower levels of education and those affected by complex disasters—who face additional economic challenges.
Social exclusion among people with disabilities is increasing due to negative attitudes, prejudices and discrimination. Even in the development projects targeted for the poor, people with disabilities have remained passive recipients and barely benefit from health, educational and employment schemes.
Worse, women with disabilities are doubly discriminated for being women and for being disabled. In a 2011 World Bank study conducted in 15 developing countries, disability prevalence was found to be higher among women than men. In most countries, the gender gap—the difference in disability prevalence between females and males—is between three and five percentage points. In Bangladesh, disability prevalence stands at 23 percent among women, compared to 10 percent among men, which gives a gender gap of 13 percentage points.
Looking at all five dimensions of economic wellbeing—education, employment, assets/living conditions, household expenditures and household expenditures on health care—World Bank research shows that persons with disabilities are significantly worse off in two or more dimensions. The poverty rate is highly correlated with lower educational attainment and lower employment rates among people with and without disabilities.
Studies have shown that the poverty rate declines as educational level increases, though it is also found that the economic disparity grows between people with and without disabilities as their academic level increases. For example, educated people with disabilities are more likely to find better jobs and diverse employment opportunities ,but in comparison to their peers without disabilities they attain fewer opportunities.
After ratification of United Nations Conventions on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in May 2010, Nepal claims to have made notable progress in the disability area. Nepal’s democratic and inclusive constitution guarantees a comprehensive set of rights, setting out special provisions to ensure people’s access to education, social justice and proportional representation. The Disability Rights Act (2017) fully recognizes the principles of the Convention, and it has widened the definition of persons with disabilities, recognizing the inter-sectionality within disability, eliminating derogatory practices and attitudes.
Government of Nepal believes that mainstreaming disability across various sectors is well incorporated in Nepal’s plans to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. Reduction of poverty, acceleration of socio-economic development and building of accessible infrastructure has been the government’s priority.
Despite these positive developments, rampant poverty exists among people with disabilities in both rural and urban areas. Various forms of discrimination still exist. There is dispute around the definition of disability, lack of credible statistics and multiple discriminations against people with disabilities. Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities in Nepal are caught in endless poverty cycle. The more we analyze these numbers, the more we begin to understand that the most economically vulnerable population in our nations are marginalized groups, women and other people with profound disabilities who lack proper education, employment and other essential services.
As poverty and disability contribute to limiting the capabilities of the poor people, there is a need for targeted and mainstream social development policies and programs to dismantle the nexus between the two. The government and its development partners need to offer comprehensive services: Financial and business literacy, specific projects for economic empowerment of people with disabilities, improving skills and vocational training for them and employment guarantee in both private and public sector jobs.
The emphasis should be laid on the quality inclusive education, development of professional skills that enable both women and men with disabilities to pursue career, ensure loss of economic burden for the country and create a roadmap to economic freedom.
Local bodies are responsible for improving the situation of people with disabilities. Thus we need to improve capacities of rural municipalities and municipalities across the country to promote disability-inclusive development. For that, effective collaboration with local disability groups and disabled persons organizations will be a great start.
Nepal’s Ministry of Women Children and Senior Citizen is working tirelessly to build better future for people with disabilities. But it alone cannot do much. The disability allowances and social protection package must be revised for allowing disabled members to purse economic opportunities.
Both women and men with disabilities are extremely capable of attaining dignified and meaningful employment opportunities. All concerned stakeholders need to work together to support their full potential and help them come out of the poverty trap.
The author is associated with Handicap International (Humanity and Inclusion), Bangladesh. Views are personal