Covid-19: Extend help to women with disabilities
The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has thrown up several challenges for women. One area where marginalised women face problems, more so than before is if they are living with disabilities. There are 11.8 million women in India with various forms of disabilities. It has exacerbated their problems due to poverty, poor health, little access to health systems, little or no income, poor education parameters and a social system that sees them as a burden on scarce resources.
The government has a number of schemes for those with disabilities, among them the Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme and the Scheme of Inclusive Education for the Disabled at the Secondary Stage that offer financial and other forms of assistance. In these schemes, there are provisions for women with physical disabilities. But the problem, as mentioned before in this column, is access. Many of these women cannot access this information given their limited mobility and resources.
At a time when medical resources and funds are stretched, women with disabilities are not a priority. This is not the case in India alone. Those with disabilities are often not able to articulate their medical problems, leaving them out of the loop even further. Those with mental disabilities and with sight or hearing impairments find it even harder.
There are several non-negotiable rules to counter the spread of the insidious virus. One is physical distancing. But women, or anyone with disabilities, are dependent on attendants for daily functions — be it a professional or a family member. Today, such assistants are in short supply, as they have either been prevented from reaching the disabled person, or, if they are family attendants, are either ill or too busy keeping the family afloat.
Women with disabilities do not have help, if they happen to be living on their own, to access groceries and medical supplies. In many cases, they are likely to suffer from violence at the hands of partners or personal attendants as stress levels increase. Resident welfare associations could take on a more positive role in this in housing colonies which have them. But so far, hardly any have taken any initiative.
One aspect which the central and state governments should look at is a regular allowance for women with disabilities. There is a lot of talk, and much of it positive, about working from home and reviving the rural economy. Look further into work-from-home opportunities for women with disabilities with proper skilling. Now is the time to bring on board all the resources we have.
Women with disabilities also need medical assistance at home. At the very least, regular check-ups. Kerala’s celebrated model is worth emulating.
Stories of women with disabilities being thrown out of their homes by their husbands or families due to economic reasons and social prejudice require State intervention.
With the virus showing no signs of going away any time soon, many of the problems that women with disabilities face are going to get worse. Many states have led the way in thinking up inclusive ways to mitigate the effects of the virus. But when it comes to the socioeconomic effects of the virus on women, especially the marginalised, even the more progressive states have not taken any significant initiative.
The pandemic has led to many people feeling trapped in their homes, suffering from anxieties and depression. This is hopefully a temporary phase for most of them. For those with disabilities, being confined to limited spaces is par for the course. A holistic approach to changing society, making it more inclusive and accommodating should include paying special attention to those with special needs.
The views expressed are personal