For Pratima Gurung from Nepal, empowering indigenous women with disabilities starts with making them count as active participants and decision-makers, not just observers of decisions. She points to the need to strengthen their voices in disability fora, as well as indigenous peoples’ fora.
” I became disabled at seven, when I lost my hand in a truck accident. Suddenly, everything changed. People had different perceptions about my future—what I should do and not do, whether I should go to school, or whether I should get married.
Within my family, I didn’t feel discriminated, but as soon as I left home, I felt it everywhere I went.
My parents moved to another city and it was difficult to adjust to all the changes. I struggled within myself about my disability, even as my parents struggled to care for me and motivate me.
I was lucky that my parents were educated and they never cut any corners with my education. Most indigenous women and women with disability in my country do not get that opportunity like me.
Today, in Nepal, I am leading the advocacy for women with disabilities and indigenous women. Most disabled peoples’ organization, indigenous peoples’ organization and state mechanisms in my country don’t cater to the specific needs and unique realities of indigenous women with disabilities.
With the changing climate and recurring disasters, indigenous women are more at risk than ever before. Some 80 per cent of the total population in the 13 districts impacted by the earthquake in Nepal were indigenous and dalit (caste) peoples. If a pregnant woman without shelter is doing five hours walk every day to collect water and firewood, she doesn’t even realize how this may impact her baby and her health. Rising psychosocial problem, drought and malnutrition are silently causing disabilities in our children.
Empowering [indigenous women with disabilities] means that we must be at the table making decisions about the issues that affect us.”
Pratima Gurung, 37, is an activist for the rights of Indigenous peoples and women with disabilities in Nepal and Asia, member of the Steering Committee of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network. Born in Pokhara, Nepal, Gurung became disabled at seven years of age. Today she one of the most prominent voices in Nepal and Asia on the rights of indigenous women with disabilities and seeks their leadership, inclusion and participation in decision-making at all levels. She recently spoke at the 61st Session on the Commission on the Status of Women on the emerging theme of “The empowerment of indigenous women.” For the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind, women and girls with disabilities must be specifically addressed and empowered in all areas. Gurung’s story reflects the need to empower indigenous women with disabilities in the areas of education (Goal 4), gender equality and women’s leadership and participation in decision making (Goal 5), as well as climate action (Goal 13), by raising their awareness, education and capacity.