Dalit women with disabilities: a triple challenge to their empowerment
In India, to be born in a Dalit family as a disabled woman represents a triple discrimination. It means starting life with serious disadvantages and deprivation of opportunities for personal development in different social environments, and living with greater dependency and social stigma.
The Dalit population represents 16.2% of the total Indian population, but their control over the country's resources is less than 5%. About half of the Dalit population lives below the poverty threshold, with an illiteracy rate of 62%. Gender inequalities between Dalit men and women with disabilities are evident in the role imposed by patriarchy. Most of them do not marry due to the feminine appeal culturally required that does not match their reality. But on the other hand, being single is socially challenged, because marriage is obligatory for women.
Being born female in India
Another key factor is that disability is not only due to a biological aspect but is often acquired after birth. It means that when a girl is born, her health care and her social and emotional wellbeing is undervalued by her family, and girls are more likely to suffer from anemia, pneumonia, malnutrition and growth retardation: major causes of disability.
Being born female deprives them of adequate food, places them in a position of discrimination and their lives matter little. As they grow, they experience emotionally traumatic situations that can lead to irreversible psychological damage, even loss of life. The case of rape and murder of a deaf and mute girl on February in India evidence not only their high vulnerability to violence, but also the lack of mechanisms to protect human rights by the State.
To be a woman, belong to a low caste and have a disability make them easy targets for abuse and exploitation. Since in most cases it is difficult for them to communicate a violence act or they just do not communicate it, this reality becomes a silent phenomenon, so it is difficult to have reliable data on the abuses suffered. Moreover, they are not considered capable to provide for themselves and are set aside so they cannot meet their basic needs of health, education, housing, employment, etc.
Fair Trade to fight discrimination
For this reason, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation (VFF), through its Fair Trade and Solidarity Program 'Colaboración Activa' (Active Collaboration), aims to fight the strong discrimination suffered by disabled women of lower castes in Andhra Pradesh. The purpose is to promote their empowerment and their social and labor inclusion, and generate income through a self-sustaining project that involves building self-esteem, make their own decisions, develop personal abilities and have the necessary tools to take the social and economic control of their lives. Residency-Workshops are promoted, where they are trained in an economic activity and basic education. They also have medical monitoring and are offered stable employment.
At the workshops they produce diverse products, which are exported to Spain, and profits from their sale are directly reinvested into the program that currently benefits a total of 75 women and their families.
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Anne Ferrer, who has been working as a social worker in rural parts of Andhra Pradesh, received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award 2015 for her contribution in the field of development and welfare of Women and Children in India.
The telephone rings. It is the 1,098 time the VFF staff in India answer the urgent needs of the community using the anonymous help line. 24 hours, 7 days a week urgent calls of a wide variety come in and much needed support is given immediately.