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Women, Disability and Human Rights - II

by Yogesh Gupta and Savita Pande

Disability and Women

The percentage of disabled varies from country to country. India being a populous country has a large population of disabled. As they are often marginalized and separated from the mainstream society, non-disabled people have little opportunity to know about disabled people. Disability is regarded as something out of ordinary.

In many societies, more often than not, it is associated as a tragedy both for the individual as well as the family. It is assumed that the disabled is destined for dependence. It is worse in case of women, particularly from the developing world, because of limited information available on the subject. Usually, work on disabled women focuses on how disabled women deal with “double disadvantage” that is sexism and disability — an approach contended by most feminists.

Educational Opportunities

The concept of “Education to all" is taking shape in more and more societies. Recently, the Indian Parliament has made the Right to Education the fundamental right. It means education is accessible to all those who want to be educated.

As for the provisions for the rights of the disabled in India: 

  • Article 26 of the Disability Act 1995, states that both the Centre and the State governments will ensure that every disabled below the age of 18 years will get free education and related facilities.
  • Part B of the clause 26 talks about promoting integrated education system. Clause C of the same article mentions that the state will ensure that schools and educational institutions are accessible to the disabled people.
  • Article 27 of the disability act says that those who haven’t received their primary and higher education will be given education through different methods and special schools.
  • Article 28 and 29 specify that state will promote and establish separate teachers training schools for the disabled and will make sure that adequate arrangements are made vis-avis transportation.
  • Article 35 of the act talks about creating employment opportunities for the disabled through professional education.
Theoretically analysing the implications, these provisions appear very comprehensive in nature. The ground situation is nothing short of shocking. A very small fraction of disabled in India have some sort of education till classX and even a smaller proportion gets higher education.

Now that it is a fundamental right will situation improve? Things do not change overnight, but whether they change over a period of time is even more difficult to say. As education is intricately linked to high tech modes, will innovations creep in? In the United States there is a legislation passed recently, known as Section 508, which makes it mandatory for all the websites to made disabled friendly. It is a small example of the awareness level of the society.

Things are even more difficult when it comes to women, because literacy for women is as it is a serious problem. It is not considered economical in urban and rural poor households, and it is not considered important in the elite strata of the society. For the disabled women the problem is manifold.

The safety of the disabled women becomes a serious impediment to their education. Higher education in that case becomes a remote possibility. It hardly needs to be recalled here that higher education is accessible to a minuscule population.

Employment opportunities

Right to live in dignity may not be a fundamental right in books but is a universally accepted right. It is as essential for the disabled as for the non-disabled, and is inextricably linked with right to education. Countries like India with limited employment opportunities create an even more challenging situation for the disabled. Beggary is the most common result of the socio-economic-complex for the physically challenged.

Article 33 of the Disability Act, 1995 calls for 3 percent reservation for the disabled persons in all government jobs. But this has not happened .

Employment opportunities for women become even more difficult, because it is difficult to ensure their safety. As it is employment opportunities for women are rare. Some are ruled out purely for technicalities of hard physical labour like the armed forces. Although there is an ever increasing proportion of women in the medical or paramedical staff, there is a miniscule addition in other fields. The armed forces may pose occupational hazards but in other cases the occupational argument comes as a handy tool for denial.

The issue, is not unrelated to the educational opportunities, rather the denial of it. If the educational opportunities are minimal, it is obvious that employment opportunities are hardly likely to be better. Reservation in this case becomes meaningless if the minimum education level is never reached. Relaxation can only be there in the requirements for the job but absence of qualifications makes the case for reservation inapplicable.

It is unfortunate but true that scenario in the private sector is no better. The issue of commercial viability can be defeated if equal opportunity in education is practised taking the disability factor into cognisance. Private sector can be induced by giving concessions of sorts if they employ disabled or employing disabled can be even made mandatory in certain cases. The disabled should be trained and equipped by the society at the initial stages itself. We believe that reservation for disabled women should be given even greater priority.

Read the third part of this article Women, Disability and Human Rights - III.

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