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Publication Date : 15-02-2013
When I was invited to attend a meeting at the National Federation of the Disabled Nepal (NFDN) a few days ago to discuss disability issues, I found that a representative of the European Union (EU) was the attraction of the meeting. He was there to listen to us. One could imagine what happens when suppressed, neglected, and marginalised people meet someone who is ready to listen and willing to help: All sorrows, comments and experiences were thrown at the EU representative. After the meeting, I thought the issues we discussed could be useful for other donors and the Nepali government to better understand the concerns of the disability community.
Basically, the meeting was called to discuss how EU grants could be more effective in helping to address the pressing concerns of the disability movement in Nepal. However, as expected, the discussion went beyond what the EU could do, but rather focused overall on what is lacking and what needs to be done to strengthen the movement.
It is obvious that the disability sector is the one of the most neglected areas of social, economic and political investment in the country. But the sad reality is, the disabled constituency is rapidly increasing. Nepal's conflict years, followed by what seems an unending phase of transition, have made an enormous contribution to multiplying the occurrence of disability across the country. However, the disability community is not getting the attention it deserves. Even the donor community has failed to pay requisit attention to addressing disability issues in Nepal.
Given the diversity of disabilities and the government’s apathy, few donors are interested in engaging with the issue. Whatever little grants donors invest in the disability sector are generally hijacked by International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs). Those that work locally in the capital, Kathmandu, and outside had vented their frustrations on the EU representative, claiming that it was just too difficult to compete with INGOs for the already-small grants. A participant grumbled, “INGOs use Disabled People Organizations (DPOs) as funding partners which gives them an extra mark in the competitive funding. But after winning the fund from the donor, INGOs do not treat DPOs as partners. They look down on us.” That is a serious indication that DPOs are not only discriminated against in society, but that they are made to feel humiliated in front of donors and INGOs as well.
It is simply unjust to force DPOs to compete with hi-fi INGOs for the same funding. Donors dedicate resources to empower DPOs and persons with disabilities (PWDs) not through DPOs but through other INGOs, which makes little sense. As a result, DPOs in Nepal have become very serious about how they should be treated and supported by donors and the government alike. At the NFDN meet, participants suggested to the EU representative that the EU disability grant, for example, should follow the principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) while channelising resources. If any giving body really wants to empower DPOs and PWDs, they should be ready to accept the leadership of the disability community. As one commentator said, “We need support to become leaders and to develop skills so that we can become front liners in championing disability issues." It is expected that the EU will launch some scheme in its grant to strengthen the disability movement in Nepal under the leadership of DPOs and PWDs, not through the channel of INGOs.
There are both challenges and opportunities in investing in the disability sector. One major challenge is that many sub-aspects of disability go ignored or untouched as a result of lack of interest and funding from the government and donors. Issues related to women with disability; psychosocial disability; accessibility; violence towards PWDs and the absence of rehabilitation services; the situation of persons with intellectual disabilities; the poor database of PWDs; chronic diseases and related disability health expenses; disabled conflict victims and their mental state; seriously mentally ill and homeless people; media and disability; civil and political rights of PWDs; disability sports; access to health and education of PWDs; disability identity card and disability inclusive development are all neglected by the stakeholders.
There are a few donors working in the disability sector, however, the work has been superficial at best. Recently, GIZ Nepal (formerly known as GTZ) has done an assessment about the access to health care services of PWDs in Nepal. This assessment highlights the serious need to make Nepal’s health sector more disability friendly. SO far, USAID, AUSAID and others have invested a wee bit in the physical disability sector. But the role of the European Union should be acknowledged in leading the effort to promote the CRPD in its member countries including Nepal. All donors working in Nepal have a disability policy and show commitment to the CRPD, but they lack efforts in implementation.
The government is no better. Till date, only 15 percent of the PWDs have received disability identity cards in the country. This data is sufficient to judge the government’s apathy towards PWDs. The longer we ignore the issues of PWDs, the more we question the role of government and aid agencies who claim to be pro-poor and pro-human rights. There is a dire need to make a serious effort to recognise diverse disability issues, its different categories, and actions to address them. Now is the time for Nepal to bring these suppressed issues and voices onto one platform and start a fresh social movement to mainstream disability rights in the social, economic and political arena.