In May 2020, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted a Q&A with Samjhana Ghimire, project coordinator with the Nepal Disabled Women Association (NDWA) where she supports implementation of IFES’ Power to Persuade: Empowering Women with Disabilities to Influence Public Policy program. The transcript of the video interview, conducted by IFES Inclusion Specialist Rebecca Aaberg, appears below.
Aaberg: Hello, I am Rebecca Aaberg, Inclusion Specialist at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and today I’m joined by Samjhana Ghimire, who is from Nepal Disabled Women’s Association and will provide some insights into the work that NDWA is doing right now. Samjhana, could you please say a little bit about yourself and your work with NDWA to advocate for equal access to rights for Nepali women with disabilities?
Ghimire: OK, thank you Rebecca. I am Samjhana Ghimire, originally from Biratnagar, province no. 1, eastern part of Nepal. Talking about my educational background, I have completed master’s degree in child development and Gender Socialization and my bachelor’s degree is in public health. In the same way, talking about my professional experience, I have been working in the development sector for 10 years with different non- governmental organizations. I have closely worked with different levels of government from federal level to local government to seek support in project planning, implementation, monitoring, and reporting, advocacy-led initiatives. In the same way, my work with Nepal Disabled Women Association began since 2011, starting as a general member of NDWA. Since then, I have been engaged in different programs and forums of NDWA to advocate for the rights of women with disabilities. From August 2018, I have been working as a as a project coordinator at NDWA. I look after the project Power to Persuade: Empowering Women with Disabilities to Influence Public Policy, which is implemented in five districts of Province 1, 3, 4 and 7 of Nepal. The project is technically and financially supported by International Foundation for Electoral Systems and USAID, respectively. From this project, my team has been engaging with local stakeholders, such as elected representatives, local government, CSOs and community people to make them aware about the issues of women with disabilities and ensuring meaningful participation of women with disabilities. In the same way, the project is also developing leadership capacity of women with disabilities through trainings, interactions, dialogue programs, etc. Because of this, many local units have started to recognize the importance and needs of women with disabilities and women with disabilities have been hired as resource persons to create awareness on disability issues at community level, and they are offering jobs to many women with disabilities, allocating budget and programs for women with disabilities during the local level planning process.
Aaberg: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted women with disabilities in Nepal?
Ghimire: Actually, persons with disabilities are the most marginalized groups under this emergency condition, all of us know that, and amongst them, women with disabilities are the most vulnerable group. Women with disabilities are facing many hurdles for their livelihood and also suffering from extreme hunger in some cases. Considering this current countrywide lockdown in Nepal, NDWA did different consultations with different groups of persons with disabilities throughout the country. Through these consultations, it was found that persons with disabilities and their families who are at extremely vulnerable conditions are badly affected for their daily lives. We can see that some women with disabilities who were employed and earned at least some money had to forcefully leave their jobs and those who had started their businesses had to turn down their business and income generating activities. Women with disabilities having spinal cord injuries are facing big health challenges due to unavailability of daily medical kits and clinical apparatus like clean intermittent catheterization that they specifically need for everyday basis. Similarly, the health of girls and women with disabilities who have spinal cord injuries or on wheelchairs is getting worse due to continuous bed rest at home because of lockdown. And, this is has resulted into body swelling, urinary tract infections, and infection in backbone, also. Menstruation hygiene management is challenging for girls and women with disabilities in this COVID-19 pandemic. Many girls and women with disabilities are suffering from domestic violence, also, but no proper reporting and recording system is managed by government of Nepal for women and girls with disabilities. Similarly, during this lockdown, 2 women from Morang district, around 18 and 52 years, had died. The reason of their death was due to no access of transportation to take them to the hospital, difficulty in getting medicine on time and also less priority given by their family members on their health. And the Government is distributing relief materials without prioritizing person with disabilities. Different committees and groups have been formed at the local to federal level for the response on COVID-19, but there is no participation of women with disabilities. The quarantine facilities, isolation beds and other managerial procedure are not accessible for person with disabilities. And information and education regarding COVID-19 is not disseminated in easy-to-read formats, so women along with persons with disabilities are deprived from getting information, also. So all those things.
Aaberg: Thank you for providing that context. It sounds like women with disabilities in in Nepal are facing a number of challenges and intersectional barriers because of their disability and their gender. In this context, what actions has NDWA taken to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women with disabilities?
Ghimire: NDWA has taken some couple of actions in response to COVID-19. I wanted to mention some of them. First of all, NDWA has been sharing information through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter email, viber, and keeping a network with government and sharing the decisions of government provided in regard to COVID-19 activities. In the same way, raising voice against violence against women with disabilities during COVID-19 through different social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, viber, all those things. Similarly, the National Trading Center is delivering gas cylinders at the doorsteps of persons with disabilities to those who have disability identity card. NDWA is coordinating online with the National Trading Center and providing them with the details of persons with disabilities who need gas cylinders for cooking and the National Trading Center is accordingly delivering the gas for these persons and persons with disabilities. Furthermore, NDWA is supporting for distribution of relief materials to women with disabilities in different parts of Nepal. And it is attending in-person meetings with mayors and deputy mayors, along with ward chairs and different chiefs of tertiary level institutions like Ministry of Health and Population, Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen, UN agencies and other like-minded organizations. Furthermore, NDWA is participating in different meetings online, like Zoom cloud meetings and through Skype with the government and non-government line agencies and supporting to provide medical supplies to people like those with hemophilia and for the spinal cord injury persons. And it has submitted memorandum to the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen for the basic requirements at safe houses and rehabilitation center established for women and girls with disabilities. Nowadays, the government has started to collect information about the persons and women with disabilities also for the relief material and for the other kind of support also. Similarly, it has conducted Zoom cloud meetings for progress of Sustainable Development Goal review in the perspective of disability and gender on 21st May 2020. So it is regularly coordinating and contacting with women with disabilities and advocating for their problems, also.
Aaberg: That’s great to hear. It sounds like NDWA is doing a lot of really important work right now on the rights of women with disabilities during the pandemic. So, Samjhana, you mentioned earlier that you are coordinating the Power to Persuade project, and I was wondering if you might be able to say a bit about how your participation in the Power to Persuade training with women with disabilities prepared you to advocate for services and resources for women with disabilities during COVID-19?
Ghimire: Yeah, actually, Power to Persuade fostered my leadership skills and of other women with disabilities and developed skills to engage with Government and other stakeholders, also. And Power to Persuade supported to increase the socio-political participation of women with disabilities in local, provincial and federal level. With this, I am more motivated to work closely with local government to advocate for the services and resources for women with disabilities during COVID 19 and which is a must in this context. Basically, I am coordinating and advocating with stakeholders for the essential services and resources such as: distribution of relief materials focusing on women and girls with disabilities and advocating for accessible services like quarantine, isolation bed, easy-to-read awareness material on COVID-19. Similarly, I am raising the voices for meaningful participation of women with disabilities in different committee of COVID response and creating awareness about preventive measures of COVID-19 and promoting healthy lifestyles like maintaining hygiene and sanitation, maintaining social distancing and alertness about gender-based violence, all those things.
Aaberg: Great, thank you. Samjhana, what lessons would you share with other advocates to ensure women with disabilities have equal access to services and information on COVID-19?
Ghimire: Actually, meaningful participation of women with disabilities in every response committee is needed so that every facility will be accessible for all kinds of women with disabilities—some are physical, some are blind, some are Deaf, some are intellectual—so there should be accessible services for women with disabilities. For this, there should be the meaningful participation of women with disabilities. Next is that information and educational materials should be disseminated in easy-to-read formats so that women with disabilities can take care of their health. Even single advocate should incorporate the need of women with disabilities and advocate for distribution of required materials to all the needy people. Communication and coordination with the local level Institutions for awareness, information collection and dissemination are most important.
Aaberg: Thank you so much for sharing all of this information, Samjhana, and for this interview today.
Ghimire: Thank you so much for providing me the chance to share my views and the current situation about Nepali women with disabilities.