International Day of People with Disability 2020
The Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) follows a human-rights based approach. This includes promoting access to water and sanitation as a human right, as well as inclusiveness and participatory planning. Human rights are for everyone – people of every ethnicity, caste, gender, age and ability. When considering the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the work of RVWRMP can most directly contribute to the issues of accessibility and participation.
Nepal is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by the UN in 2008. There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention:
Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons.
Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
Equality of opportunity
Equality between men and women
Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities
The Constitution of Nepal (2015) also states “The citizens with disabilities shall have the right to live with dignity and honour, with the identity of their diversity, and have equal access to public services and facilities”. (42.3)
In many remote communities in Nepal, disability is seen as a curse, and a source of shame and discrimination for the whole family. There are limited resources or information available, and access to medical assistance is difficult. In addition, most households have an elderly grandparent living with them, who eventually may have difficulties with movement. Even the barriers to physical movement in difficult, steep terrain make a life with dignity challenging for some.
While not the main focus of the project, we are considering problems faced by people with disabilities (PWD) and the frail elderly. This has particularly involved discussing ways to improve access to toilets and taps and improving monitoring of the difficulties of access for PWD. Carers of severely disabled family members also benefit enormously when there is clean water and a toilet easily available. The project also aims for inclusion in all project activities and raising the issue of the rights of all disadvantaged persons in community discussions.
Right now, the Social and Health Promoters (SHPs) working with the project at community level are carrying out a household survey on disability. They are asking questions on access to taps and toilets, participation in meetings, whether they have had communications difficulties in the meetings, and whether the project has benefitted the individuals with disabilities (or their carers). Once the survey is complete, we will share it with the Rural Municipalities, provide training and develop plans for how the RM can respond to the needs of PWD in their community. We will endeavour to include PWD (or their carers) in the discussions, in order to present their issues and find resolution.
The Promoters also touch on this topic during normal household visits, and share a brochure to relevant households on how to improve the household toilet, making it more accessible for all (see the photo attached – available from this link). The SHPs discuss this topic, asking the question “Is your toilet accessible to all household members, including the elderly, children, disabled and physically frail?” According to the data from 10,885 household visits, toilet access is improving.
It is also important to note that COVID-19 has probably had more serious impacts on PWD: Disabilities may make individuals more susceptible to the disease; PWD often have less access to important information; the economic impacts and downturn in remittances may be more serious for them; the general social and household tensions, particularly during the lockdowns, put PWD at more risk of suffering domestic violence.
This year on 3rd December we celebrate people in the RVWRMP project area living with disabilities and work to improve their rights.
We have interviewed some people living with disabilities in the RVWRMP area who are benefitting from project water supply and sanitation schemes, in order to hear something of their lives.
Asu Devi Sarki lives in Thalara RM, Ward 6, Bajhang. She is a member of the Chipleti private tap connection water supply scheme. Asu belongs to the Dalit community. She is 70 years old and suffers from knee pains and difficulty in movement, so faces multiple disadvantages (gender, caste, age and disability, and lives in a remote community). Before getting the connection to the private tap and utensil drying rack, she faced problems to maintain her personal hygiene and sanitation. Now that she has the tap stand and toilet in the yard, she feels very happy. She can use the tap and toilet easily now and has easy access without needing support of other household members.
Godhan Gatal is a user of the Katol Lek drinking water supply scheme, Pancheswor RM, Baitadi. This is a very water scarce area, and the community are very grateful for the new gravity fed scheme supplying the public taps. Even now there are limits on domestic water consumption, and some water needs to be carried for animals. Households pay a water tariff, but very poor or disadvantaged households are excused.
Godhan has a leg problem and can walk with support of crutches. It has been important for him to have drinking water available close to his home. He can use the toilet without others’ support and can carry out work at the household level. He shared the bitter experiences he has lived through. The RM provides the disability allowance from the government side, but it isn’t sufficient for living expenses. He would like to work to earn money, but due to his disability nobody trusts him to be able to carry out the tasks, and they don’t offer any work to him (he was denied work in a hotel, for instance). He can do light work to live and feed his family, but he has no opportunity to do so. Once he went to India as a day labourer, but he was paid a very low rate, so he came back to Nepal. He faces limited opportunities and feels that he isn’t respected.
The RVWRMP uses a rights-based working modality. Everyone in the community is encouraged to participate, including those suffering from disadvantages in the scheme area. If anybody works for the scheme construction, they will be paid the same wage, irrespective of their abilities or sex. All community members are encouraged to join the planning and do the work they are able to, and which results in better lives for all. Godhan is seen here participating as an equal participant of this group meeting of the Katol Lek drinking water scheme.
Jaisara Bist (16 years old, left) and Gauri Shahi (25 years old, right) live in Turmakhand RM in Achham. They have both been blind since birth and need support from others for their daily work, sanitation and individual activities.
Jaisara is of menstruation age, and she feels her period is very shameful. This is a common feeling amongst many women in the area, due to the long-standing menstrual taboos. However, for Jaisara it is ever more problematic, as she needs others’ support to manage her menstruation. She needs to sleep in the lower floor of house where is unsafe, as she cannot see where risky locations might be in this unfamiliar and less secure location. Due to the menstruation taboos she is not allowed to use the tap and toilet at home, and she has to go outside for washing and toileting with the support of her mother.
Gauri also explains that when she is menstruating, she is not allowed to touch the tap and toilet, and her sister or mother need to assist her to manage her personal hygiene. RVWRMP is working with the rural municipalities on Dignified Menstruation Management, raising awareness with communities on human rights and menstruation. The issues are even more critical for women and girls living with disabilities.
Nar Bahadur Bohara is 49 years old and lives in Bogtan Fudsil RM, in Doti. He cannot walk well due to serious physical disabilities. He used to work as a teacher in a private primary school, with a local government salary until a few years ago. However, he was bullied by some students, and left his job. Now he earns money by tutoring some students from his home. The RM also provides Nar with the disability allowance. He can use the toilet and tap independently, though with difficulty, and he can maintain his own hygiene (very important when he needs to move on both hands and feet).
Projects such as RVWRMP and the municipality have a lot to learn from all disabled members of the community (particularly educated people like Nar Bahadur), regarding opportunities to improve access, participation and equality of opportunities for all.
First picture (Asudevi Sarki) - Manju Bhatta (Behaviour Change Communications Officer)
Second picture (Godhan Gatal) - Pamela White (Rural Monitoring & Reporting Specialist) / Manju Bhatta
Third and Fourth pictures (Jaisara Bist and Gauri Shahi) - Manju Chhetri - SHP, Turmakhand RM - Achham
Fifth picture (Nar Bahadur Bohara) - Gita GC (Field Coordinator - Bogtan Fudsil RM Doti)