The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities mandates the state parties to take all the possible measures to ensure that they get equal employment opportunities. Nepal ratified both the Convention and its Optional Protocol in May, 2010 further strengthening the framework of rights of persons living with disabilities. Given this, we might expect that the status and the recognition of the citizens living with disabilities have been elevated and justice has been done to the vast majority of them.
But though the provisions have been included in laws against any sort of discrimination, since the laws of the land are yet to be fully mainstreamed and internalized by the larger society, persons living with disabilities and other members of minority groups still have to grapple with discrimination.
One of the places where a person with disabilities can still experience prejudices and biases stemming from such discrimination is the workplace.
Vast majority of executive positions, those holding power and decision-making authority, are mostly occupied by citizens who, belonging to the upper groups according to the Hindu society, have not fully come to terms with the meanings, implications and, most importantly, the consequences of an unequal system.
The plain truth is that employers—whether it is in governmental or nongovernmental entities or in corporate or private organizations—are not yet ready to employ persons with disabilities as potential workforce.
One of the reasons behind this is that the employers have an attitudinal bias that persons with disabilities are not a productive human resource. They don’t seem to acknowledge the fact that persons with disabilities are also endowed with skills and determination that enable them to excel and succeed, even more than others at times.
A charitable approach that treats the persons with disabilities, Dalits, sexual minorities and members of indigenous groups with compassion does not help much. It is not just about giving an opportunity, something that minority citizens have all the rights to demand. It is about not recognizing the potential of the persons with disabilities.
Many international and national NGOs have been working for the protection and promotion of the fundamental rights of all those excluded and marginalized communities or groups like women, Dalits, Janajaties, persons with disabilities and sexual minorities. Their approach, even if driven by the best intention, may be counterproductive and thus it needs to be re-calibrated and re-purposed.
In order to advance promote more diverse workplaces we first need to deal with the institutional barriers which exclude the most marginalized people from equitable access to jobs.
Treating those excluded and most marginalized people always as “beneficiaries” goes against the principles of “self-empowerment.” Directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, the entire system is failing a big group of the society.
Working for change
Along these years, all the advocacy by disability groups and others has made a difference to some extent. Admittedly, the overall approach of society towards them has changed for the better. But the change does not reflect on the livelihood and wellbeing of the minority groups. We have not yet reached the last mile and the defining area where minority groups have full access to employment. It is not just the right to secure a teaching position via quota, it is more about tapping into the potentials, skills and capabilities that persons with disabilities, like any other minority groups, possess.
In order to advance and promote more diverse workplaces we first need to deal with the institutional barriers that still exist and which exclude the most marginalized people from equitable access to jobs. Securing a job that fully reflects their expertise, know-hows and capabilities should not be like conquering a fortress. It should not be such an arduous and uphill challenge. Those in power should admit that the current workforce does not fully reflect the broad diversity of the country.
We applaud all those members of the mainstream groups, often portrayed as members of the elites, who genuinely undertook a journey of introspection and self-reflection in order to revisit not just what they did but also what they did not do to make workplaces and the broader society more just, equal and diverse.
It is a process that in the United States brought new levels of consciousness among white executives who are now working to create a just level playing field in their organizations. Can’t the same thing happen in a country like Nepal through a mix of positive discrimination measures and a stronger commitment for social inclusion from the leaders in the business and not-for profit sectors?
We urge them to engage and commit to a serious and prolonged dialogue, a national conversation that will not just help fix a problem but also help Nepal to grow to the highest level. Dealing with conscious and unconscious biases should be an essential part of these exercises.
Let there be a national reflection to deal with discrimination in the workplace. Inclusion, equality and acceptance should be the norm. This is what may bring a systemic change.
The former must be eliminated and punished as per the existing laws and provisions while the latter must be “cracked open” then analyzed and discussed openly as it is happening in the US with so many corporations finally understanding why the “Black Lives Matter” movement actually matters. Unfortunately, based on the experiences of many friends belonging to minority groups, it can be said that there are still too many people in power with conscious and deliberate biases against the minorities.
Their behaviors and actions should not be tolerated nor brushed away with the usual thinking that “generational” change requires patience and time. This is no time for patience. It’s time to reimagine a different type of nation.
We can still have the resolute determination for overcoming this plague. We need to accept that it existed for many centuries and it is still having a very adverse impact on many citizens who want to contribute to Nepal’s development even further but were, in the best of cases, just relegated to a second class status and, in the worst cases, totally excluded. There is a systematic problem that requires systemic transformation to bring equity and equality. We propose a national reflection to deal with discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. Inclusion, equality and acceptance should be the norm. This is what may bring a systemic change.
Krishna Gahatraj is a Disability Inclusive Development Specialist. Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE and writes about social inclusion, volunteerism, youth development and social issues in general. Views are personal.