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Mainstreaming disability in Bangladesh

Molida is now generating her own income (© Paulien Bruijn/Light for the World)
Molida is now generating her own income
© Paulien Bruijn/Light for the World

Molida Afsar and her sister Hena are two young women with a hearing impairment. They were fully dependent on their brother when they were selected to be part of the EU-funded Gaibandha Food Security Programme for Ultra Poor Women in Bangladesh. Together with other women in their village, they formed a Women Village Group (WVG) and received training on healthy food, how to start their own vegetable garden and other ways to generate their own income. With the help of a community member, who is able to speak the local sign language, they were able to fully contribute to the group.

The project was implemented by seven local organisations* and supported by three European NGOs - ICCO, The Leprosy Mission (Netherlands and England & Wales) and Light for the World. The aim was to improve the food security of 40,000 women-headed households in Bangladesh. From the outset, the initiative worked to raise awareness about the rights and needs of disabled people. "The reason why people with disabilities often do not participate in development projects is not their impairment or functional limitation," explains Paulien Bruijn, Inclusive Development Coordinator for Light for the World. "Inadequate policies, negative attitudes and lack of accessibility often prohibit their participation. So to ensure the equal participation of people with disabilities in the project, we aimed to make sure that at least 20 per cent of households included a member with a disability."

Inclusion

Group Development Agents (GDA) supported the functioning of the groups, by sensitising members on disability and making sure that people with disabilities were included in all group activities. GDA's were assisted by a team of specialised trainers who provided group members with information to help them select and implement income generating activities. People with disabilities were also assessed and disability workers decided whether physiotherapy, medical treatment or specific devices would be needed to improve their ability to take part in WVG activities.

With the profit they made, Molida and Hena were able to rent a plot of land and start growing pumpkins (© Paulien Bruijn/Light for the World)
With the profit they made, Molida and Hena were able to rent a plot of land and start growing pumpkins
© Paulien Bruijn/Light for the World

Molida and Hena chose to raise chickens. After receiving the birds and training on how to raise chickens, they were soon able to eat and sell the eggs and provide a few hens to another group member. In return they received a goat from another group member. With the profit they made, they were able to rent a plot of land and start growing pumpkins. They also keep ducks. Now, generating their own income, they are no longer fully dependent on their brother.

The success of women with disabilities in income generation activities has been equal to the success rate of women without disabilities. Some GDAs have reported that women with disabilities took their activities more seriously and were therefore able to achieve better results. "Earning their own income has proved to be a very empowering exercise for women with disabilities," Bruijn explains. "They are often seen as a burden to the family, but once they are able to contribute to the family income they get more respect. So the income generating activities have not only improved their economic status, but also their social status and self-confidence."

Sustaining equal opportunities

The inclusion of people with disabilities in this development project was made easier by having a consortium of different organisations. For instance, while ICCO had experience with food security, income generation and women's groups, The Leprosy Mission brought experience of leprosy and disability-specific service delivery and Light for the World brought knowledge and skills on capacity building of project staff to include people with disabilities. "Cooperation between disability-specific organisations, and mainstream development NGOs proved to be an effective way to ensure that people with disabilities gained access to the development initiatives," Bruijn reveals.

Awareness training helped group members to accept and include women with disabilities (© Paulien Bruijn/Light for the World)
Awareness training helped group members to accept and include women with disabilities
© Paulien Bruijn/Light for the World

Training of staff was a crucial part of the inclusion process. "You can't expect that people with disabilities will automatically be included in a project if there are no specific strategies formulated in the proposal to enhance their equal participation," adds Bruijn. "The biggest barrier that prevents people with disabilities from participating is the attitude of development practitioners." Field staff were therefore trained to understand the concept of disability, recognise the rights and capabilities of people with disabilities, and remove barriers that block participation.

Awareness training also helped group members to accept and include women with disabilities, as 'name calling' within the WVGs was initially found to be a particular problem. Improved social acceptance meant that, for the first time, many disabled women were addressed by their name in the community. The election of women with disabilities as group leaders is another strong indicator of increased social acceptance. "Sukina, a woman with spinal deformity, was chosen by the other members of the group as a leader because she can speak and understand better than the other beneficiaries," explains Polin Gole Hur, a GDA. "At the beginning she received a lot of adverse attention because of her disability, but now the focus is on her because of her qualities as a good leader."

"Inclusion of people with disabilities should not be treated as a onetime activity in a single project," Bruijn concludes. "It will only be sustainable if organisations incorporate the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout all programmes and incorporate it in their systems and structures."

* Implementing partners: RDRS, GBK, UST, GUK, CDD, CCDB and TLMIB

Date published: September 2013

 

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