Three Important Ingredients in Supporting an Intersectional Approach in Indigenous Disability Rights: Insights from Pratima Gurung


Photo: Pratima Gurung

By Ashley Hernandez and Pratima Gurung
Pratima is a leading global activist and champion for the rights of women, Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities, specifically representing Indigenous women with disabilities from Nepal. She recalls that at the age of 7 she became disabled when she lost her hand in a truck accident. This event inevitably shaped a new layer of her identity, as she became categorized as ‘disabled’.
Since 2000, Pratima has been arduously working to elevate the rights and voices of underrepresented groups within gender, disability and Indigenous discourse. Her activism also includes a powerful focus on how Indigenous philanthropy can better adopt an intersectional lens. During an interview with IFIP, Pratima outlined a myriad of ways in which Indigenous groups can bolster this intersectional approach and how donors can support these collective efforts. Following are the most salient recommendations on how Indigenous philanthropy can embrace an intersectional lens from the disability rights perspective.
Three Recommendations for Embracing Intersectionality and Inclusion

One, recognize Indigenous Peoples with disabilities as right holders, both as an Indigenous person and as a person with a disability. It is also important to allow these groups to speak for themselves and raise their own voices in every sphere.

An important element to this right-based approach is to not see these characteristics as separate, but rather each as an important identity marker of an individual addressing the specific needs of the particular groups they represent.
After the devastating earthquake in Nepal, a major natural disaster in 2015, about 12,000 people became disabled for the first time. Many of the impacted individuals were from both the Indigenous and Dalit communities. The area where the earthquake hit were rural communities where many Indigenous Peoples lived due to their socio economic circumstances, their culture, their language, geography, and historical context.
Many of them living in those far remote hilly areas faced barriers in receiving the emergency humanitarian aid during and after the disaster. First, this is because they didn’t have access to information and engagement, including with community leaders, state duty bearers, local leaders and aid. Second, the aid was provided within a “single basket approach” that was not culturally sensitive and failed to address their disabilities. Hence it unsuccessfully considered the needs that resulted from the groups’ specific disabilities or their Indigenous identities, whether it was access to physical roads, considering the severity of the disability or language barriers. Third, these communities were unaware of the emergency strategies and their rights and needs to utilize the resources available to them as a disabled person. This led to the effected group not having proper access and control to resources or procedures like disability cards and other official documents related to emergency crises.
The failure to recognize this group’s rights as both Indigenous Peoples and as peoples with disabilities results in diminishing their capabilities to raise their voices and work collectively. This erodes their ability to act as decision holders on the matters that affect this group as both Indigenous and disabled.

Two, support and develop evidence-based documents, which includes studies, reports, data, and case studies to address multiple and intersecting forms of vulnerability, discrimination and marginalization. This is the ‘reaching the farthest behind approach’.

According to Pratima, people including development partners and relevant stakeholders like the state and UN mechanisms seem reluctant to address diversity because of its complexity.  As a result, most of the funding focuses either on women, Indigenous Peoples or disability issues, but not to groups who are working with the most marginalized or those focused on how these issues may intersect. Despite having realistic and pertinent issues on the ground, those stories from the margin are hard to elevate in public discourse. One reason for this is because of funding. Right holders, including development partners, do not know about these funds. Nor do they always understand how emerging issues are connected, such as the links between climate change and its disproportional effect on Indigenous Peoples, or how those with disabilities are the most vulnerable to its impact. How far we are willing to look into our issues from the lens of diversity and intersectionality has to be part of the discussion among all of us; including right holders, duty bearers and development partners. Finally, working across movements with cross movement collaboration is necessary to ensure all actors working in Indigenous philanthropy look inwards and leave no one behind.



Pratima Gurug addressing the United Nations. Photo: Pratima Gurung

Three, Indigenous movements, development partners and state actors all need to seek a paradigm shift and increase the quality and quantity of funding so that philanthropy includes all Indigenous identities in the development framework.

Pratima emphasizes that if quality programs are done at the community level then all groups need to begin with the basic question: who is the most marginalized and who is being left behind in your movements or in communities you are supporting? Engagement of Indigenous Peoples means engagement of women, children, youth, persons with disabilities and elderly people, all of whom have to be proportionately dispersed at all levels of participation and implementation. One way to successfully implement this is through a twin track approach. This approach works to mainstream issues like disability rights as a cross cutting topic across movements in order to erode barriers. This is coupled with an effort to enhance groups’ capabilities that focuses on empowerment that enables full participation.
Whether it is those with disabilities sharing their stories within larger movements, or women sharing insights about gender parity, this approach can help ensure no one is left behind in Indigenous philanthropy.  “A paradigm shift has to be started first within us. Then Indigenous philanthropy can achieve this goal by cultivating intercultural approaches and an enabling environment that is conscious of the importance of applying and maintaining an intersectional lens.”
Pratima Gurug is a member of Indigenous Person with Disabilities Global Network and Global Advisor for both the Disability Rights Fund and Disability Advocacy Rights Fund. She recently spoke at the 61st Session on the Commission on the Status of Women and the 16th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to address multiple types of discrimination faced by groups like Indigenous women and women with disabilities.
Ashley Hernandez is Program Associate for the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples.