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There are various challenges to include women with disabilities in the mainstream of society. This challenge can only be met with concerted government and non-government initiative. With training and support, women with disabilities can gain competence. If the sustainable development goals are to be attained, the disabled women must be not allowed to lag behind, but helped to move forward.

These observations were made by discussants at the virtual roundtable on 'Social and economic inclusion of disabled women: Challenges and the way ahead'. The UK-based charity Leonard Cheshire and Prothom Alo organised the roundtable on Thursday, with support from UK Aid.

Speaking as chief guest at the event, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Nasima Begum, said that it was the disabled women who were affected the most in any calamity. And it was even worse for women with disabilities. The coronavirus times were no exception.

She said that one of the best ways for such women to go ahead during these times was by going online. That is why initiative should be taken to give disabled women special training in information technology. Training should be imparted in accordance to their disabilities. These women must be helped to develop their latent talents. They must not be underestimated.

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Presiding over the roundtable, Leonard Cheshire’s country director Zahir Bin Siddique said education and skill development was required before everything else. Training and employment would take women with disabilities ahead. It must also be determined how disabled-friendly the training is for the recipients. He said online training in soft skills and digital skills has been arranged during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Speaking as special guest, the social development advisor of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Tahera Jabeen, said there is an estimated one billion people with disabilities all over the world. And 80 per cent of them live in developing countries. In Bangladesh, the disabled are deprived of the rights to education, health, employment, social assistance and decision making. And the women among the disabled are subject to gender discrimination, rape and sexual abuse. Their lives are extremely challenging.

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Chairperson of Dhaka University’s department of communication disorders, Tawhida Jahan, said that there are laws to establish equality and fundamental rights of the disabled. There are laws for their safety too. But in reality, the disabled women are subject to much more disparity than women in general.

One of the major obstacles for disabled women, who are victims of mental, physical and sexual abuse, is their weakness in language skills

She said that application of the law and awareness is not enough. One of the major obstacles for disabled women, who are victims of mental, physical and sexual abuse, is their weakness in language skills.

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Executive director of the Centre for Disability and Development, AHM Noman Khan, said women with disabilities still lag behind in access to education and other services. But things have changed to a certain degree and they are doing well in various sectors.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum made the opening presentation of the roundtable.

I was confident from childhood. Nothing daunted me. I gained IT skills at a basic and advance level and am working accordingly
Nahyan Bushra

Nasrin Jahan, founder and chief executive officer of the organisation for the blind and disabled, Disabled Child, said, “We often face adverse circumstances. We will not be able to go forward unless we are confident and bold. Families do not want to let their disabled girls out in fear of their safety. The family must play a role in this regard.”

Nahyan Bushra, a beneficiary of Leonard Cheshire’s Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) project, did her Masters from Dhaka University last year. She said, “I was confident from childhood. Nothing daunted me. I gained IT skills at a basic and advance level and am working accordingly.”

Noor has been working for a software company for the past 12 years. The founder and chief executive officer of the company, Obaidul Islam, said, “Disabled women can work harder that other people. They are very trustworthy.”

CBM International country director Muhammad Mushfiqul Wara said work must be done on creating an environment conducive to the social and economic inclusion of disabled women at an individual and state level. The environment outside of their homes must be safe.

Programme manager of Leonard Cheshire’s i2i project, Suraiya Akhter, said this project was helping 7,000 disabled persons to be equipped for employment. At least 40 per cent women with disabilities will be facilitated.

Access Bangladesh Foundation’s co-founder Mohua Paul said it is sad when we see disabled women absent in the programmes undertaken for women with disabilities. More must be done for the employment of disabled women.

Executive director of the Centre for Services and Information on Disability, Khandakar Zahurul Alam, said that disabled women are doing better than men in the IT sector. For example, in an area 60km away from Mongla, a disabled woman underwent training and made Tk 8,000 on the very first day. She now works at home for a call centre.

The roundtable was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

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