The Indigenous World 2022: Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN)

Over 1 billion people, or approximately 15% of the world’s population, are persons with disabilities.[1] Applying this percentage to the estimated 476 million Indigenous Peoples globally, the number of Indigenous persons with disabilities stands at approximately 71 million.[2] Similarly, if this percentage of 15% of the population with disabilities were applied to the estimated 185 million Indigenous women worldwide, it would come to 28 million Indigenous women with disabilities globally.[3] The Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN) estimates that 45 million of these Indigenous people with disabilities live in the Asia Pacific region, in developing and underdeveloped countries.[4]

Several studies have reflected the higher prevalence of disabilities among Indigenous Peoples because of a high level of poverty, increased exposure to environmental degradation, malnutrition, the impact of large projects such as dams or mining activities and the higher risk of being victims of violence.[5] Indigenous people with disabilities face exclusion, marginalization, and multiple layers of discrimination, and face barriers to the full enjoyment of their rights, based on their disability, ethnic origin and gender. And yet despite higher rates of disability in Indigenous communities, in most cases little or no attention is given to their situation, and they have no access to the services and support they need to participate fully in wider society and their own communities.[6]

The IPWDGN works to protect, promote and advance the rights of Indigenous persons with disabilities, including respect for their unique identity to live dignified lives in their communities. It is representative of the diverse geopolitical region from local to global levels from seven regions.


IPWDGN's major focus in 2021 was to ensure the effective participation of Indigenous people, and especially Indigenous women, with disabilities on the global platform of the 2nd World Conference of Indigenous Women. Its aim was to address the structural and historical gap within Indigenous women by ensuring the voices, issues and active engagement of Indigenous women with disabilities in the global forum/debate. This year has been an historic milestone in terms of bringing the realities and challenges experienced by Indigenous women with disabilities to the 2nd World Conference for the first time and has paved the way for moving collectively forward in an organized manner. In collaboration with IPWDGN, the Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas (FIMI) and other regional organizers, the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN) team was able to set a benchmark for disability inclusion and collaboration this year and hopes this will be a continued effort carried forward by everyone in order to move one step closer to reaching the most marginalized groups as enshrined in the Articles 21 and 22 of the UNDRIP and ensuring that no-one is left behind.

Indigenous women with disabilities: a path towards inclusion and collaboration in 2021

The different forms of millennial historical, structural, systematic and direct discrimination of 54 million Indigenous persons with disabilities globally[7] are a contributing factor in the regular violation of their human rights. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded against the backdrop of several important milestones for equality and the human rights of various marginalized groups, including Indigenous Peoples, women and persons with disabilities and their intersections.[8] This discrimination is evident not only in terms of stigma, social norms and values but also in the national laws and policies, both in the private and public sphere, including within and beyond the movement. For Indigenous girls and women with disabilities, who number 28 million[9] globally, they face multiple and intersecting forms of disadvantage that combine, interact and intensify in a compounded form, placing them at a unique disadvantage and on the lowest level of the social hierarchy. The voices of Indigenous girls and women with disabilities are so often invisible, unheard, unseen and unaddressed.

There are two prominent reasons for this. First, like other disabled people, Indigenous persons with disabilities are seen as “non-contributors” and “disability-related stigma and stereotypes” exist within us. Issues around basic rights such as education, food, health, employment, accessibility, access to information and participation, including matters such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), marriage, motherhood, violence, abuse, forced sterilization, institutionalization, increased vulnerability due to disasters and climate change, have been not widely debated nor garnered much attention. Second, due to multiple identities, diverse impairment and social barriers, Indigenous people/women with disabilities themselves are not able to be self- and institutionally-organized to claim their rights either in the private or public spheres.

Nonetheless, the data, facts and evidence from the ground show that the prevalence of disability among Indigenous Peoples is higher in most countries across the world due to high levels of poverty, increased exposure to environmental degradation, malnutrition, the impact of large projects such as dams or mining activities and the higher risk of being victims of violence. Realizing this fact, the IPWDGN has been advocating on disability issues with meaningful participation at all levels in order to discuss the issues that affect these people’s daily lives. However, there is a need for disability inclusion, accessibility, support and an enabling environment to enhance the necessary work and advocacy. During the ongoing COVID pandemic, this year’s work addressed some of the achievements of Indigenous girls and women with disabilities through the NIDWAN, as described below.

Historic landmark in the 2nd World Conference of Indigenous Women (2WCIW)

The 2nd World Conference of Indigenous Women (2WCIW), held from 12 August to 2 September, was organized and took place in 2021 with the attendance of more than 1,200 Indigenous women from the seven different geopolitical regions of the world. Indigenous elders, leaders, women experts, delegates, member states, media and others gathered to discuss the Indigenous women's agenda for the coming years. The conference ensured the inclusion of Indigenous women with disabilities from the start of the process. The 2WCIW set a landmark by providing an outstanding opportunity to raise and amplify the voices of Indigenous women with disabilities through various side events, official and unofficial meetings, consultations, etc. aimed at ensuring the maximum participation. The participation of Indigenous women with disabilities was ensured at NIDWAN’s initiative, in collaboration with IPWDGN.

Ms Pratima Gurung, the General Secretary of IPWDGN, spoke in the opening plenary session of the 2WCIW. During the session, she presented Indigenous women with disabilities as “contributors” to the family and society, she stressed the importance of meaningful participation of Indigenous women with disabilities at all levels and emphasized the need for a better and more accessible space for disability inclusion. She reiterated the urgent need to clearly outline the issues faced by Indigenous women with disabilities in all documents, policies and implementation on the ground in order to safeguard their rights to live in a dignified way.

Apart from this intervention, NIDWAN held four major virtual side events during the 2WCIW. All events had sign language interpreters (SLI) and Nepali translation to ensure that the virtual sessions were inclusive. The first side event was on Access, Identity and Representation of Indigenous Women of Nepal at all levels, held on 12 August 2021 with the collaboration of four Indigenous Women’s organizations from Nepal. The second event focused on Effective and Meaningful Participation of Indigenous Women with Disabilities and took place on 13 August 2021. The third virtual event was on UNDRIP, UNPFII Recommendations and the Outcome Document from the World Conference, held on 20 August 2021. The fourth and last virtual event was on the issue of Intersectionality - A Look at Women with Disabilities, held on 26 August 2021,  in collaboration with the International Forum on Indigenous Women (FIMI). The speakers for these sessions included the Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Nepali government representatives, the Network of Indigenous Women in Asia (NIWA), EMRIP, IPWDGN members, representatives of Indigenous Peoples from the seven geopolitical regions and development partners. These sessions framed a comprehensive and deeper understanding of the issues facing Indigenous women with disabilities and framed a collective approach to moving forward through an intersectional approach that prioritizes their realities on the ground.

At the end of the 2WCIW, the landmark success for Indigenous Women with disabilities was that their issues were incorporated into the Global Political Declaration of Indigenous Women,[10] which acknowledged Indigenous women’s diversity and expressed a strong commitment to continue the collective journey for a collective cause.

Reaching unreached voices nationally and regionally

Understanding that the cycle of exclusion of Indigenous women with disabilities cannot be broken by the efforts of a few people and/or a few years of advocacy, NIDWAN has been instrumental in coordinating with national, regional and global organizations to strengthen the network of Indigenous peoples/women with disabilities across the seven provinces of Nepal.  In addition, during the 2WCIW, NIDWAN facilitated the formation of the Indigenous Women with Disabilities Network in Asia and continued looking for support to enhance the network. This network will identify, unite and advocate for Indigenous women with disabilities across Asia. In 2021, NIDWAN commenced the first assessment of Indigenous people with disabilities in Asia.

With the support of FIMI and AIPP, NIDWAN was able to publish the Political Outcomes Document for Indigenous Women and Women with Disabilities[11] in different accessible formats, such as in Nepali plain language (for all), braille (visually impaired), Easy-to-Read Version (for autism, psychosocial disability and other disabilities) and video with Sign Language Interpreter, captioning and pictures (for deaf people)). These documents address the diverse needs of Indigenous people with disabilities and will be used for wider advocacy initiatives at national, regional and global level. In addition, NIDWAN published “Indigenous Women and Girls in Nepal: A Brief Overview,”[12] which is a compilation of existing data, facts, findings, and information on Indigenous people/women with disabilities.

Research and documentation on Indigenous people and women with disabilities

A lack of data, information and research on Indigenous persons, including Indigenous women with disabilities, has always been one of the most challenging realities and so, with this in mind, NIDWAN has carried out research on various topics such as the impact of climate change, COVID-19, intersectional issues and violence. NIDWAN successfully published an “Interim Impact Assessment of COVID-19  to Underrepresented (Indigenous, Dalit, and Madhesi) Peoples with Disabilities in Nepal.”[13] It also published reports on 1) Violence Against Indigenous Women and Indigenous Women with Disabilities; 2) Aspiration and realities to  imagine violencefree lives for Indigenous Women and Indigenous Women with Disabilities: An initial step towards it ; 3) Intersectionality and Marginalization: A study of Indigenous women with Disabilities in Nepal; and 4)  Impacts of Climate Change on Indigenous Women with Disabilities.

In 2021, the World Food Program Nepal conducted a Study on Access to Food of Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities in Nepal, which was the first time that such a report had focused on Indigenous women with disabilities. This was a remarkable achievement that opened a debate around the nexus of gender, disability, indigeneity and intersectionality. As a result of the advocacy efforts undertaken, global media attention and coverage was given to the issues facing Indigenous women with disabilities, for example through the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR),[14] the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA),[15] the Equality Fund,[16] and the QUT University.[17]

Celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples with a call for action from global experts and leaders

In the context of celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, NIDWAN held a virtual session entitled “Global Dialogue on 1COVID-19 Impact on Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities, their inclusion and meaningful participation at all levels”, which was held on 2 August 2021. The event was organized in collaboration with the Minority Rights Group International (MRG), UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal and other co-organizers such as the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), National Indigenous Women’s Federation (NIWF) of Nepal and others. The speakers for this session were Mr Fransico Calí Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Mr Vladimir Cuk, Executive Director of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), Mr Gam Shimray, Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Ms Binda Thapa, Gender Policy Adviser to UNDP inNepal and Ms Pratima Gurung. The session was moderated by Ms Sushila Thapa Magar, who made a collective call for action to ensure, protect and promote the rights of Indigenous persons with disabilities during emergencies and normal times. All the speakers reflected on the multiple aspects of Indigenous persons with disabilities. Data provided during the event stated that 91.13% Indigenous persons with disabilities had experienced social and economic impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 60.74% had lost their livelihood during COVID and 55.44% had not received any COVID relief or support. They all therefore pledged to call for action from all member states, governments, development partners in order to produce a concrete plan and to work collectively.

Advocating for marginalized voices globally and nationally

2021 has been instrumental in advocating for voices globally and nationally. The NIDWAN team engaged in oral and written interventions to the following international bodies: the Commission on the Status of Women, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, CEDAW Committee, Women’s Philanthropy Sessions and also submitted a written submission on the Situation of Indigenous Women and Girls with Disabilities to the CEDAW Committee as a contribution to the preparation of its General Recommendation on Indigenous Women and Girls. The written submission focused on the issues facing Indigenous women with disabilities and NIDWAN was also able to make an oral intervention to the CEDAW Committee.

NIDWAN’s team, Ms Pratima Gurung and Ms Sajana Gurung, presented to the 14th Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ side event on operationalizing disability-inclusive education in a low-income country context. “Nothing about us, without us: Amplifying the priorities of women and girls with disabilities at the CRPD and CEDAW Committees in the post COVID recovery process”, and on the General Recommendation of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) on 15 June 2021.

In addition, Ms Gurung spoke to the Indigenous Peoples Caucus during the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change highlighting the need to establish a Disability Caucus. Prior to COP 26, she also spoke in two webinars, one entitled “Can South Asia Combat the Climate Crisis?” on 31 October and the other entitled “Disability-Inclusive Climate Action: Rights and Obligations.” Ms Gurung also shared her opinions in “Transformation: Young Feminists Creating the Future ” organized by the Equality Fund on 23 September 2021.

In April 2021, NIDWAN also invited Ms Bandana Rana and Ms Ana Peláez Narváez, CEDAW Committee Members, to the 26th and 27th IDWAN Discussion Series (NDS) to discuss Indigenous Women’s rights in the CEDAW Committee and the Inclusion of Women with Disabilities’ Issues in its General Recommendation on Indigenous Women and Girls. NIDWAN also engaged with feminist allies on issues related to Environmental Justice and contributed to a global discussion on multiple and intersectional voices in “Feminist Climate Solutions for People and Planet: The Power of Cross-Movement Collaboration for Climate Justice”, which was part of the Shimmering Solidarity: Global Rights Summit.[18] Moreover, at the 20th Session of UNPFII, Ms Gurung gave a presentation at a side event organized by the World Food Program on “WFP and Indigenous Peoples: generating evidence for action”, which focused on Indigenous Peoples with disabilities in Nepal and their access to food. At the Generation Equality Forum 2021, NIDWAN gave a presentation on “Beijing+25/26 Review and Discussion, focusing on Accountability.”

During the year, NIDWAN continued to contribute to issues related to Indigenous women with disabilities, producing several articles for international journals and the organization was also able to reach 2,950+ direct and 3,300+indirect beneficiaries at the grassroots level through different support, services and training.

Through these initiatives, the voices of Indigenous persons with disabilities are being heard. However, there are numerous challenges in terms of access to information, health, food, education, participation and, in most places, these issues are not recognized as human rights issues and Indigenous persons with disabilities are compelled to live as non-human being,[19] so there is an urgent need to build a better and more comprehensive collective understanding of the human rights of Indigenous persons, including Indigenous women with disabilities, to ensure that our Indigenous brothers and sisters, government officials, member states and development partners are inclusive of all and that no-one is left behind.

Ms Pratima Gurung belongs to the Gurung Indigenous Peoples community. She serves as a faculty member in Padmakanya Multiple Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal and is General Secretary of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN) and President of the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN). You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

This article is part of the 36th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2022 in full here

 

Notes and references 

[1] United Nations. “E/C.19/2013/6. Economic and Social Council. 5 February 2013. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Twelfth session. New York, 20-31 May 2013. Item 7 of the provisional agenda*. Human rights. Study on the situation of indigenous persons with disabilities, with a particular focus on challenges faced with regard to the full enjoyment of human rights and inclusion in development.” Para. 2. https://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/ecosoc/e.c.19.2013.6.pdf

[2] UN Women. “Fact Sheet:  Indigenous Women with Disabilities.” UN Women, 2020. https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/04/fact-sheet-on-indigenous-women-with-disabilities

[3] Ibid.

[4] Asia Pacific Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People with Disabilities, First Gathering of Indigenous People with Disabilities from Asia and Pacific Region 2015.

[5] United Nations. “E/C.19/2013/6. Economic and Social Council. 5 February 2013. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Study on the situation of indigenous persons with disabilities, with a particular focus on challenges faced with regard to the full enjoyment of human rights and inclusion in development. Note by the Secretariat”. Para. 7. https://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/ecosoc/e.c.19.2013.6.pdf

[6] OHCHR. “Summary report: Expert meeting on Indigenous people with disabilities.” July 7-8, 2016. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/SRDisabilities/Pages/IPDisabilities.aspx

[7] United Nations. “E/C.19/2013/6, 2013. Economic and Social Council. 5 February 2013. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Study on the situation of indigenous persons with disabilities, with a particular focus on challenges faced with regard to the full enjoyment of human rights and inclusion in development. Note by the Secretariat”. https://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/ecosoc/e.c.19.2013.6.pdf

[8] Gurung, Pratima. “COVID-19 in Nepal: The Impact on Indigenous Peoples and Persons with Disabilities.” Disability and the Global South 8 (2021): 1910-1922. https://disabilityglobalsouth.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/dgs08_01_03.pdf

[9] UN Women. “Fact Sheet: Indigenous Women with Disabilities.”. UN Women, 2020.

https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/04/fact-sheet-on-indigenous-women-with-disabilities

[10] 2nd World Conference on Indigenous Women (2WCIW). “Global Political Declaration of Indigenous Women.”

https://www.asianindigenouswomen.org/files/Global_Political_Declaration_of_Indigenous_Women_2WCIW.pdf

[11] National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN). “Statements.” https://nidwan.org.np/resources/statements/

[12] National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN). “Indigenous Women and Girls in Nepal: A Brief Overview.” NIDWAN, 2021.

https://nidwan.org.np/development-research/indigenous-women-and-girls-in-nepal-a-brief-overview/

[13] NIDWAN, UNPRPD, UNPD. “Interim Impact Assessment of COVID-19 to Underrepresented (Indigenous, Dalit and Madhesi) People with Disabilities in Nepal.” NIDWAN, 2021.

https://nidwan.org.np/development-research/research-on-interim-impact-assessment-of-covid-19-to-underrepresented-indigenous-dalit-and-madhesi-peoples-with-disabilities-in-nepal/

[14] UNDRR. “Pratima Gurung: “All too-often, Indigenous Women with Disabilities are Invisible.” PreventionWeb, November 19, 2021. https://www.preventionweb.net/blog/pratima-gurung-all-too-often-indigenous-women-disabilities-are-invisible?fbclid=IwAR2IgStHnSdPC5o9N-oCCJkQiR7bq9xEoseFQ0uCTlBMGWvSfDmxJqHNY

[15] Gurung, Pratima. “Indigenous women with disabilities are not just victims but we are key to climate solutions.” Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), November 22, 2021. https://gaggaalliance.org/indigenous-women-with-disabilities-are-not-just-victims-but-we-are-key-to-climate-solutions/?fbclid=IwAR2IgStHnSdPC5o9N-m_oCCJkQiR7bq9xEoseFQ0uCTlBMGWvSfDmxJqHNY

[16] Equality Fund https://equalityfund.ca/

[17] Gurung, Pratima. “From Discrimination to Inclusion.” Queensland University of Technology (QUT), August 12, 2021. https://blogs.qut.edu.au/impact-stories/2021/08/12/from-discrimination-to-inclusion/

[18] Global Philanthropy Project (GPP). “Shimmering Solidarity: Global Rights Summit.” GPP, March-June 2021. https://globalphilanthropyproject.org/Events/shimmeringsolidarity/

[19] IDA.  “COVID-19 in Nepal: What are the challenges for indigenous persons with disabilities?” International Disability Alliance (IDA), May 5, 2020.https://www.internationaldisabilityalliance.org/covid19-indigenous

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