“When women with disabilities receive quality education, they can realize what is right and what is wrong for them” Laxmi Nepal

Interviewer: Feruza Ghermawit

Who are you? When did you become an activist?

I did my school level education in an Integrated School, a kind of inclusive school. Integrated school means that sighted children and blind children study together. I grew up with the sighted people together. I did not study only in the special school for the blind. So from here, I slowly and gradually understood the meaning of inclusion. After that I did my Bachelors in Nepal in Humanities and Social Science. Upon acquiring the scholarship from the US government, I completed a one year undergraduate course at Missouri State University. After returning from Missouri State University, I returned to Nepal and did my Master’s in Conflict, Peace, and Development Studies. 

Let me share how I got involved in the Disability movement in Nepal. While in grade 9 and 10, I realized that blind and visually impaired people faced many challenges in education. So I did not know much about other disabilities at that time but I knew what the problems and the issues in the case of education were, compared to my sighted counterparts. So since then, I had the feeling that I would work for the promotion of the education of blind people. And at that time, some of the senior women leaders in the disability sector used to visit our school and they used to organize activities where we could show our talent, like speech context. From there, I slowly and gradually started to get involved with the disability sector. After immediately graduating from high school, I became a member of some local level district organizations and then they wanted to have me on the board. So that’s how I got involved in the disability sector. 

What kind of work do you do?

I work for the rights, empowerment, and inclusion of women with disabilities in Nepal, blind and visually impaired in particular. I’m the founding member of an organization called Access Planet Organization. This organization works in the sector of empowerment of young women with disabilities. I’m especially interested in education and employment because I believe that when women with disabilities are educated and when  they receive quality education they can realize what is right and what is wrong for them. And the next step is employment, so if they are economically empowered then on one hand they will be independent and the social attitude towards them will automatically be positive. I’m especially interested in working for the improvement of quality of education and for connecting those women with disabilities to the economic empowerment programs and employment opportunities. 

And besides that I also work as a Program Officer in the organization called Blind Women Association Nepal which works in the sector of promoting access to justice for women with disabilities. Just to give you some examples, we conduct legal literacy training on the grassroots level so that women with disabilities in the villages also know about their rights, what is stated in the national laws and policies, what are the international treaties and mechanisms and how they can be implemented in Nepal. Another important part of promoting access to justice for women with disabilities, are the paralegal committees that we established at the local level. Those paralegal committees are trained with how to deal with the cases of women with disabilities. Empowerment of those paralegal committees and making them skillful in dealing with the cases of women with disabilities is another important part of the access to justice work that we conduct. And besides that, we provide legal aid service to women with disabilities, especially in cases of violence. The court process is very lengthy and hectic and difficult for the general people to understand. So we provide them with legal aid support if they have faced violence. And in certain situations we provide them counseling and if they want to take the case to the court action, we also support them. 

Which are the challenges women with disabilities face? How have you overcome them? 

In patriarchal societies, women with disabilities face multiple layers of marginalization on the basis of their disability and their gender. And in the case of Nepal, also due to their caste and social class compounded by the fact they are poor. Besides being discriminated against, they don’t have information about their rights. 

Women with disabilities in rural settings face additional accessibility barriers. Nepal is a country with many mountains and hills so because of the geographical difficulties, the mobility of women with disabilities is highly restricted. They also lack proper equipment to support them. While other women with disabilities can travel independently using their wheelchairs or canes, they have to stay in their house because the wheelchairs cannot be driven in those difficult mountains and hills. Blind women cannot travel without the assistance of relatives. And these relatives also have to work, so their mobility is highly restricted. I see the lack of economic empowerment as the main issue because until they are economically empowered, they cannot be independent. So in patriarchal societies, women with disabilities are prevented from opportunities like education and skill development, and even if they have skills and education, they don’t have access to the economic opportunities. In addition, women with disabilities have limited access to information about their rights and face the negative attitude of employers. 

How have your organization used international instruments and/or mechanisms to uphold the rights of women with disabilities? 

We use the international human rights instruments as our basic tool to empower women with disabilities and also for advocating for their rights. We use various international human rights instruments like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Sustainable Development Goals. So we inform and sensitize women with disabilities in rural settings and also young women with disabilities in urban settings about their rights. We provide them with information and training opportunities, including legal literacy classes. We also use these tools and instruments to do advocacy at the local and national levels. For example, if we claim for political rights then we use articles under CRPD as the major tool to advocate for the political rights of persons with disabilities before the central government. Also, we advocate before the local government for the allocation of funds for women’s education based on articles stated in CRPD, CEDAW and the Sustainable Development Goals.