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Have You Noticed Discrimination Of This Kind In Your Office?

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By Parvinder Singh:

It can be a little unnerving when you are the only employee with a disability in most offices you have worked in during a career that has spanned over one and a half decades (leaving aside a couple of disability organisations). But that’s a story for some other time.

Today, I’d like to pose some questions. When was the last time you came across a person with disability, while negotiating a business deal or presenting your next big idea? What would be your call if you were interviewing a candidate for a job that he or she can do well, but your office is inaccessible, especially if that candidate was qualified for a leadership position, and not the stereotypical handful of jobs earmarked for people with disabilities?

If you are wondering why I am posing these questions, well, it’s high time we answered these, because an entire section of the population is literally missing from work and professional spaces!

Even if we go along with the data of the 2011 Census, about 1.34 crore people with disabilities in India are in the employable age of 15-59 years. About 99 lakh persons with disabilities in the employable age group are either ‘non-workers’ or ‘marginal workers’. This means close to 10 million people with disabilities in the employable age are without a regular source of income and employment!

Coming back to this picture of offices and workspaces devoid of people from an entire social group, one can’t help but think about the deeper challenges that impedes the access of people with disabilities. The lack of workforce diversity and participation by people with disabilities is linked to a number of factors, or simply, no intent to engage with the opportunity of diversity and inclusion, from the level of boardrooms to senior management.

This has led to a very high rate of unemployment among people with disabilities across the world, especially in the Low and Medium Income Countries. Education, employment and health – a lack of access is associated and interlinked with these three key life areas.

Discrimination At Work

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006, have established the right to work and employment without discrimination. Yet, one aspect that people with disabilities can vouch for based on their individual experiences, and for which there isn’t a study specific to India, is of how discrimination impacts their chances of employment and even wages.

Global data and studies reveal that even if people with disabilities are employed, they commonly earn less than their counterparts without disabilities; women with disabilities commonly earn less than men with disabilities. The wage gaps between men and women with and without disabilities are thus as important as the difference in employment rates. For example, in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, only half of the substantial difference in wages and participation rates between disabled and non-disabled male workers was attributable to differences in productivity, and empirical research in the United States found that discrimination reduced wages and opportunities for employment.

boardroom
There is a lack of representation of persons with disability. Source: Kevin Murray/Flickr

The impact of discrimination and stereotypes related to performance or lack of expectation in the minds of people is also visible in the limited, or non-representation of people with disabilities at the leadership level and on company boards, etc. A revealing example from India would be the struggle and legal battle that people with disabilities had to undergo to get reservation implemented in the much coveted IAS positions or the Group A and B services as they are called, of the Civil Services. The recent judgement by India’s Supreme Court clears the ambiguity about the intent of the Disability Act (1995), while observing that much of the struggle for people with disability as a social group is unique and historical in many ways.

One must emphasise that the economic inclusion of people with disabilities through employment and earning opportunities is linked to their struggle for equal participation and opportunities.

Circle Of Disability And Poverty

There is also a direct relation between lack of access to education and health, and employment of people with disabilities. Exclusion from education leads to lack of marketable skills, and hence unemployment, thus reducing the earning potential of people with disabilities. Similarly, lack of access to healthcare services severely limits the ability to find employment, or become self-employed.

There are ample studies that have calculated the economic impact of exclusion from access to education and health. In other words, the vicious circle of disability and poverty, traps people with disabilities. Lack of livelihood opportunities translates into economic loss because of non-employment or reduced employment of disabled people, the cost of health care, social protection, labour market programmes etc. Read this study supported by CBM, which explores in detail, the economic costs of exclusion, vis-à-vis, the gains of inclusion of people with disabilities.

Changing The Status Quo

The change towards accepting the right and needs for employment and livelihood for people with disabilities, is slow but there are promising signs of a change in mindsets, employment policies and state schemes.

One such uplifting initiative is of the disability-inclusive organic farming by CBM, which is changing equations on the ground in traditional set-ups by opening up livelihood opportunities for individuals who were seen as a ‘burden’. To understand how that works, you need only read the story of Puneeta, a determined young woman in Deurawa village in Uttar Pradesh, and the sweet taste of her success. Building livelihood opportunities by tapping into rural and enterprise around framing, is an area that needs much greater emphasis and could yield fine results.

What we need is a transformational campaign led by the government and leaders in the private sector, to end the marginalisation of people with disabilities. Changes need to happen across all levels of systems, infrastructure and processes, so workplaces can become inclusive with equal opportunities. Simply said, the barriers that stall diversity and opportunities for all in our offices, workplaces and livelihood generation, must end.

Update: On December 16, 2017, The Disability Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha. It stipulates a two-year jail term and a maximum fine of 5 lakh INR for discriminating against persons with disabilities across all spheres of life. The bill also increased the disabilities covered  to  21, to include persons with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and chronic neurological conditions.

If you’d like to share your experiences of living with disability in India, or thoughts on how we can make India more accessible, please write in and share your views!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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