Only positive discrimination can help persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups to access the job market.
Kalpana is a young girl with physical disability from Saptari in the deep south of Nepal, an area on the border with India. Since completing her high school, Kalpana has been active at community levels, showing not only a deep interest on social change and development but also a strong determination, passion and commitment for the betterment of the society, rather than her own disability, be the determinants of her own future.
Kalpana got involved into several awareness campaigns and slowly built the self-confidence to believe that she could become a good community worker for some local NGOs, focusing her energies at the grassroots levels.
Saptari, with one of the lowest human development indicators in the country, with numerous cases of gender violence and suicides among women, needs mass awareness of huge scale.
This is why youth like Kalpana should be encouraged to join the social sector, especially because, a person with disabilities, still vastly stigmatized across the country, could become a role model, offering a powerful message of self-empowerment to the entire society.
Instead the same stereotypes Kalpana has been trying to fend off for so long as a volunteer activist proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for her to find the job she loves to do.
Despite being shortlisted by numerous NGOs and meeting all the requirements for the positions advertised, Kalpana very rarely got shortlisted for the interview and when she did, she never got selected.
After multiple attempts, a feeling of discouragement and hopelessness took over, shares Kalpana who strongly believes that “employers do still have stereotypes that disabled people cannot work as others”.
Moreover, the fact that she is not affiliated with any political party is another factor to be blamed as many job opportunities, even in the development and social sectors, go according to party lines and those with connections with local politicians have stronger chances of getting hired.
Kalpana’s story is not the only one where persons living with disabilities in Nepal are not getting their fair share according to their capabilities and their rights.
Anjali is another young woman with physical disability from the prosperous economic hub of Chitwan.
She has completed her bachelor’s degree and she is staying with her family.
As eager as a young graduate should be to look for employment, Anjali cannot travel on her own due to physical and structural barriers that are still so common everywhere in the country, nor do the public transports help her because of their inaccessibility.
All these impediments did not discourage Anjali from applying for jobs but recently it has been harder and harder for her as some of her family members started seeing her as a burden and consequentially they began misbehaving with her.
With her family situation getting worse, Anjali almost committed suicide and after luckily failing at that she is considering some rehabilitation where she could start anew.
Bharat is another citizen with disabilities living in Kathmandu. Despite having several years of working experience in the development sector and a well-respected degree, he is finding extremely hard to pursue his career.
His “problems” are similar to those of Anjali’s, not because of lack of qualifications or lack of experience but he is a citizen living with disabilities, a member of Dalit community still discriminated against on religious and social norms.
The stories of Kalpana, Anjali and Bharat, whose real identities have not been revealed in order to maintain their privacy, are representatives of continuous patterns of discrimination against persons living with disabilities in Nepal.
A more progressive constitution approved in 2015 and the Disability Rights Act enacted in 2017 that finally aligned Nepal with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities did not change the status quo for people like them.
The existing legal provisions are failing to ensure that their voices are heard, their choices are respected and their sense of agency and autonomy are both safeguarded and boosted.
Citizens living with disabilities continue to have considerably less employment opportunities comparatively with other members of the society.
If one of them happens also to be a member of culturally and socially discriminated groups like in the case of Bharat, the person is forced to deal with multiple layers of discriminations, a phenomenon technically called “intersectionality”.
As consequence, her odds at finding a job are drastically reduced.
Only a mandatory affirmative discrimination policy can reverse the appalling living conditions that a vast number of persons with disabilities and other citizens from vulnerable and marginalized groups living in Nepal have been enduring for so long.
It is only the quota system that can be the “game-changer” to uphold the universal rights of all those citizens to have a dignified life and pursue their dreams and goals like anyone else.
Without such a move, the dominating elites that still control both the economy and the politics, will carry on with their own lives and will never understand the ordeals that persons like Kalpana, Anjali and Bharat have to endure every single day.
Implementing bold and progressive public policies to re-address unequal patterns upon which the entire society was founded, is going to be the only way forward for a truly inclusive, prosperous Nepal where your sexual orientation, disability or family background are valued as enriching rather than devaluing factors.
Krishna Gahatraj is a disability and social inclusion expert and activist. Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not for profit working on youth’s social inclusion with a focus on disability rights in Kathmandu.