Challenges of being a Woman with Disability in India

As per census 2011 (2016 updated) – In India out of the 121 Cr population, 2.68 Cr persons are disabled which is 2.21% of the total population. In a major contrast World Bank reports put this number at 4 to 8 Cr.[1] [2]

Among the disabled population 56% (1.5 Cr) are males and 44% (1.18 Cr ) are females.[3] [4] Women with disability face a double challenge. In a country that is 108 rank out of 149 countries[5]  in the gender gap index, it is more than just a guess that the odds that such women face.  The feminist discourse has mostly ignored its differently abled sisters mostly due to the lack of depth of their understanding of the varied issues and the wide array of problems that need to be addressed. At the same time the socio-economic indicators associated with women with disability have their own stark story to tell. It would be an understatement to say that though discrimination exits for both genders with some form of disability, it is more pronounced where women are concerned. So much so, that many times their problems are not even acknowledged or they are hidden away in fear of social ostracism.

Out of 55% of the disabled people that are literate only 45% of females are literate compared to 65.46% literacy overall among women.  There are several hurdles to girls with disabilities accessing and remaining in education. Firstly, it is within families that decisions to invest in the education for a disabled girl are taken, with the available resources being used for the education of other siblings. Secondly, accessible transport and safe commuting options may not be available to reach school. Thirdly, factors within schools like absence of trained teachers: and basic infrastructural facilities, such as accessible toilets are major barriers to education of disabled girls. Schools with ramps under the Sarv Siksha Abhiyan claim to be fully accessible, though approach to these ramps, right gradient of the ramp, classrooms, library, canteen, toilets, water drinking area and study material, etc. are yet not made barrier free.[6] The entire discussion is also underlined by the fact that women with disability face a higher threat of violence and crimes and the tendency of the criminal justice system to infantilize them in such cases.

Only 36 per cent of disabled persons in India are employed, of which 90 per cent are in the unorganized sector[7]. Among the male disabled persons, 47% are working and among female disabled, only 23% are working. The working women with disability are ndia, 25% in rural areas and 16% in urban areas. These dismal figures are not just due to lack of education but also due to limited skilling and employment opportunities afforded to them. Many companies cite lack of skills is a major hurdle that affects employment for the differently abled.[8] They also feel that they would have to spend a lot of resources to set up infrastructure. However, technology now often makes it fairly inexpensive to do so and awareness on these could boost the employment prospects of many PwD. There also exists evidence to show that discrimination might be at play even within companies especially when it comes to training received in workplaces.[9]

Skilling persons with disability is one of the numerous steps that could help them to become financially independent and forge their own identities. Here also as in education, women face the same socio-economic biases and safety concerns, along with accessibility issues due to lack of proper infrastructure, transport facing their male counterparts.[10]  There is an urgent need to look into these issues, faced by PwDs but women need to be central to the discussion as they have an additional gender dimension working against them.

Foot Notes 

[1] http://web.worldbank.org/archive/website01291/WEB/0__CO-43.HTM
The higher estimates are based on several arguments which include exclusion of disability categories in Census, and the method of questioning which relies on “diagnostic” identification of disability by untrained interviewers which typically yields lowest rates of disability in the population. The report also points that the social stigma attached to disability is also likely to contribute to under-estimation.
[3] https://enabled.in/wp/disabled-population-in-india-as-per-census-2011-2016-updated/
[4] http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/Disabled_persons_in_India_2016.pdf
[5] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/indicators/india-ranks-108th-in-wef-gender-gap-index-2018/articleshow/67145220.cms
[6] https://womenenabled.org/pdfs/mapping/Women%20with%20Disabilities%20in%20India.pdf
[7] https://www.businessinsider.in/only-36-of-disabled-people-in-india-have-found-employment-study/articleshow/67767510.cms
[8] https://www.livemint.com/Companies/Kx2Q2o9cwt2lWjc4EvZLKJ/How-Indias-top-firms-fare-in-employing-women-and-persons-wi.html
[9] https://www.livemint.com/Companies/Kx2Q2o9cwt2lWjc4EvZLKJ/How-Indias-top-firms-fare-in-employing-women-and-persons-wi.html
[10] http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2016/nov/25/women-with-disabilities-in-odisha-continue-to-remain-outside-skill-india-map-1542534.html
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