By Pralhad Gairapipli, Humanity & Inclusion, Nepal and edited by Julia McGeown, Humanity & Inclusion, UK
The 2022 International Women’s Day campaign theme #BreaktheBias calls for urgent action to counter bias and discrimination in all aspects of daily life, but importantly to combat the exclusion of girls from education. As a new UNESCO GEM Report factsheet shows, gender stereotypes and biases are built in people’s minds from childhood, limiting their futures. Biases can be reinforced or challenged through the curriculum, teaching and learning materials and practices as well as daily interactions with teachers, parents and peers. Women and girls with disabilities are among the most marginalized, excluded learners in the world and are exposed to multiple discrimination, owing to their identity as girls and as children with disabilities.
“The majority of women in Nepal are discriminated across gender lines, and the patriarchal nature of Nepalese society has pushed Nepalese women to lag behind in several socio-economic dimensions. Women with disabilities face historical exclusion and multiple deprivations in all spheres of life and also in development endeavors”, accoring to the Nepal Disabled Women Association. Humanity & Inclusion and partners are working with families and local communities to ensure the right to education for girls with disabilties in Nepal.
When Alina, 13, from Banke in Nepal, was young, her family realized that she had difficulties hearing. Eventually she was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf. She was accepted in a local mainstream school at the age of 8, but the school was not inclusive and she was not able to understand any lessons or communicate with teachers or friends. There were communication barriers because neither Alina nor the staff knew Nepali sign language and Alina was unable to communicate using speech. The school also had inadequate teaching and learning materials to support deaf children. Alina had to drop out of school and lost hope she would receive an education. Growing up as a young girl who was deaf with linguistic barriers, Alina and her family were exposed to a life full of isolation and loneliness.
According to the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal, more than 300,000 people are deaf or have a hearing impairment. There are 174 classrooms within mainstream schools that act as resource bases to support learners with hearing impairments, for around 11,000 students currently.
Since 2018, an HI project has supported Alina through their community mobilizers that conduct counselling sessions with her parents on disability awareness and Alina’s education. Eventually, she received her disability identification card from the local government. The family were supported through the admission process and connections with school authorities were made. Finally, Alina enrolled in a school with a resource class for children with hearing impairments.
“When she enrolled into the resource class, she changed a lot. We are happy to see her moving up to a higher class and being more dedicated to education,” says Gauni Kumari, Alina’s mother.
“When she comes home, she completes her homework first and then only goes to play games with friends. As she could get educated, I am confident that she will have bright future, whether she is a girl or a boy. I am just worried for her further education,” explains Gauni Kumari. “She wants to become a police officer, but I am little afraid with her hearing impairment if that create an obstacle to peruse her dream. I’ll standby along with her to support at every stage. With sign language, she has developed her confidence and social participation I am glad to see all the changes in her life,” she adds.
“When Alina arrived in the resource class, she learned letters and words quickly as she had learned basic things in the community itself by the project. She is a first student in her grade. Beside the academic subjects, she is good in extracurricular activities including sports,” says Rama Thapa, Alina’s teacher. “One thing she has to improve is English language, and I’ve placed this in priority for the coming months.”
“Parents of the children I have met pay many concerns on their girl’s safety while staying at school, as we see growing number of incidents of violence against women such as sexual violence against girls,” says Rama. “Parents often visit school and ask me to provide vocational training after their fifth grade education, this will help them to become independent and live a dignified life in the society.”
According to her parents of girls are much more concerned on their children’s future and safety. Girls from the Muslim community are often not prioritized to have an education especially when it comes to girls with a disability.
“We have to pay extra effort to teach children with disabilities, but at the end of our achievement, this gives a real pleasure,” adds Rama. “When our children teach their parents about hygiene behaviors or other things when they go home, this gives me a real meaning of being a teacher.”