Author: Mahmuda Alim (Programme Manager, Sightsavers Bangladesh)
It is a well-established fact that disability and poverty go hand-in-hand. Persons with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty than persons without and even then, the level of severity of the disability in question is a factor to be considered. In Bangladesh, the percentage of people in 2010 without disabilities aged 14 and over who managed to ensure some form of income generation was 44.41% out of a population of 151.6 million (as per The Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2010 (HIES 2010) conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS)). In contrast, only 36.07% of persons with mild disabilities managed to secure a means of income, while those with moderate to severe disabilities tallied at 24.84%. Mitigating factors such as limited educational opportunities, mobility, workplace and societal discrimination, gender-based discrimination, vulnerability to various kinds of exploitation, rising national inflation rate, and the struggle to secure legal formal/informal means of livelihood for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh becomes even more of a challenge. The Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013 goes a long way to allay this.
Independent national and international organizations work to tackle the issue of eradicating poverty for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh across all kinds of vulnerable groups.
Bangladesh, recognized as one of the most successful countries to have attained Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), actively participated in post-2015 agenda and forwarded a draft to the United Nations comprised of 11 goals, 58 targets and 241 indicators. Persons with disabilities and their organizations contributed to this process.
The Agenda 2030 is the first set of global, mainstream, development agenda to effectively address concerns of persons with disabilities as a cross-cutting issue. On the ground to ensure engagement of persons with disabilities with SDGs implementation, a collective platform ‘Disability Alliance on SDGs’ was formed in March 2017. The Disability Alliance on SDGs includes prominent national and international DPOs and NGOs working in the field of disability and development in Bangladesh. Sightsavers Bangladesh Country Office plays a leading role in the Alliance.
This year the Government of Bangladesh is participating in the Voluntary National Review process. The Disability Alliance shared a report with the Principal Coordinator, SDG Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office based on a series of local, regional and national consultations implemented across the country on goals under review for HLPF 2017 as part of the VNR process. Some initial steps should include accurately identifying and capturing the number and details of persons with disabilities under national and international poverty lines, and the number of unemployed persons with disabilities. Basic services such as food, housing, education, employment, must be made accessible to persons with disabilities.
Creating access for persons with disabilities in educational and workplace areas is a huge leap towards securing their rights, but it is also important to make that access sustainable.
Most employers are now legally bound to employ persons with disabilities, but often do not retain them. Retention and increasing the scope of access across industries must be improved. For instance, home based economic activities could secure livelihoods for persons with moderate to severe disabilities, especially young persons with disabilities and women and girls with disabilities. Moreover, involving women and younger people with disabilities in emerging sectors such as IT, could enable them to work from home and actively contribute to the economy. Additionally, persons with disabilities should be allowed to access the job market to promote their trades or sell products. Paid internships to persons with disabilities could enable them to acquire the skills required in the workplace and network with other persons with disabilities.
The impact of gradual increase in the number of and budget for safety net programs for persons with disabilities underscores the Bangladeshi government’s plans to have 145 schemes with a coverage of 3.57 crore citizens at a cost of BDT 600 billion. Parallel to creating access for persons with disabilities in the workforce should be access in healthcare, food security systems, infrastructure, education, and the justice system (especially for women with disabilities), etc. The key recommendations that emerged from the DPO consultative process are:
- Identify persons with disabilities living under the national and international poverty lines.
- Ensure that safety net programs for persons with disabilities that promote their dignity.
- Measure access of persons with disabilities in basic services include education, employment, housing, food etc.
- Ensure availability of disability specific specialized health services in all healthcare centers.
- Create positions of physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech & language therapist etc. in Upazila (sub-district) and district level hospitals under the national health workforce.
- Make police stations, courts, One-stop Crisis Centers and Victim Support Centers meaningfully inclusive for persons with disabilities.
- Provisions protecting the rights of women with disabilities must be included in the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010, the Family Court Ordinance 1984, Victim Witness Protections Law and other pending law reform initiatives.
- Provide special incentives to entrepreneurs with disabilities to run small-scale industries.
- Disability and gender-inclusive industrial policy.
- Emphasis given to identify the authentic number of persons with disabilities in Bangladesh.
- Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013, and other disability related policies implemented properly to achieve the SDGs
Finally, to improve the effective implementation and monitoring of SDGs, Government should engage persons with disabilities and their organizations in the SDG implementation process.
About the author: Mahmuda is working as Programme Manager at Sightsavers Bangladesh and the current representative of Disability Alliance In Bangladesh, a forum of NGOs and DPOs working on disability and development. She is contributing to the Voluntary National Review through the aforementioned forum. Alim has been working in the development sector for over 15 years and has been involved in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in Bangladesh from 2006 onwards. She is currently based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she resides with her family and two cats. Photography is one of her hobbies.”
Together 2030 is a civil society initiative that brings together more than 450 organisations from 89 countries to promote national implementation and track progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.