Pandemic increases vulnerabilities of India’s disabled women, says Rising Flame-Sightsavers report
From difficulty in accessing education to lack of support at work to domestic violence, the pandemic has affected women with disabilities in India in multiple ways. A report by Sightsavers and Rising Flame done across 19 states in India highlights just how deep this impact is.
“If online store people have dropped the groceries at my society gate, they don’t offer to help. I am not able to pick up and request them to carry this product. They refuse … I am forced to pick that grocery up from the gate to my home and then the whole night I spend in pain.” – 54-year-old woman with locomotor disability, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh
“No special assistance, no captions or text are shared. Most assignments are PDFs scanned and sent which mean someone needs to read out to me.” 20-year-old deaf-blind college student, Delhi
I feel depressed and there is no help available so I do not know when I will I be able to get out from this stress. Many times, due to this, I feel that I am not a good mother.” – 32-year-old woman with autism, Hyderabad, Telangana
Survey across 19 Indian states
Multiple voices highlighting the many ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of women with disabilities across India. The study titled Neglected & Forgotten: Women with Disabilities during the Covid Crisis in India, is by Rising Flame and Sightsavers. The study involved the participation of 82 women with disabilities as well as experts and disability groups. It gives detailed accounts of the barriers faced across many fronts – education, information, jobs, social welfare, emotional well-being, etc.
- An overwhelming 75 out of 82 participants reported barriers in accessing information, physical and digital spaces, communication, health services, food and essentials, remote/digital education etc.
- Personal mobility of many people who depend on the support of others in the community, has been affected by new norms of social distancing.
As one woman with a locomotive disability from Ahmednagar, Maharashtra poignantly says, “I had gone to buy some ration when my crutches slipped, and I fell down. In normal times, someone would have come and picked me up. But that day, no one came. I took my sanitiser from my purse, and gave it to the shopkeeper, and then he came to help me get up.”
- Access to food is a major problem especially in many states. Many activists are bridging these gaps putting their own health at risk.
- Delays in getting disability pension, lack of ration cards or erratic payments are major problems. This is despite the Centre and many state governments announcing schemes for the welfare of disabled people during the pandemic.
- Anxieties about accessing medical services, inaccessibility of quarantine centres as well as the barriers in the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) especially for the deaf were voiced by many disabled women.
“I worry that if I were to get hospitalised now, I wouldn’t be able to hear the doctors and the nurses”. This quote is from a 35-year woman who is hard of hearing based in Mumbai, the financial capital.
- Women are unable to access menstrual products like sanitary pads as they have not been included in the list of essential services. This forces many to use cloth which they find difficult to clean by themselves. Unavailability of clean running water and accessible toilets is another barrier.
- While many women have benefitted by the shift to work from home, it has put them under the added pressure of cooking and cleaning with no support.
- Domestic violence is a major issue with disabled women unable to access support or redressal.
“My maternal family said they could not support me physically or my expenses anymore and asked me to return to my husband’s house with my small daughter”, says a woman with locomotor disability from Thane, Maharashtra. She had moved out of her husband’s house because of domestic violence.
The Rising Flame – Sightsavers report goes on to outline some recommendations that cover immediate needs as well as show the way towards a policy that is inclusive of gender and disability.
- Reframe the Disability Inclusive Guidelines of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) to make them gender inclusive.
- Strengthen role of the State Disability Commissioners to take suo moto action on discrimination against disabled people in accessing services and essentials.
- Ensure accessibility of all communications/information regarding COVID-19.
- Ensure doorstep delivery of food and other essentials including menstrual hygiene products to the doorstep of women with disabilities.
- Ensure that disability pension and ex gratia payments under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana Scheme consider added costs incurred by disabled people.
- Strategies around domestic violence should consult with and actively involve women with disabilities.
- Helplines, websites, and other complaint mechanisms regarding gender-based violence should be operational and accessible for women with disabilities.
- Equal access to call-in, in person and online psychosocial and peer support. This should be deemed as essential services.
- Mental health responses need to be embedded in the COVID-19 recovery for persons with disabilities with specific focus on women with disabilities.
The report says the pandemic is an opportunity to address the inequalities that exist in society so that the most marginalised groups like disabled women can come back stronger with better support.
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