Attitude towards Disability in Rural Nepal

Posted on Tuesday, December 18 2012

This month Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen with colleagues at the universities of Sheffield and Warwick and the UK charity Green Tara Trust published the first research paper on women’s attitudes towards disability in Nepal. Their paper explores knowledge and attitudes towards people with disabilities among more than 400 rural women in one of the poorer countries in the world.

Disability can be defined as being unable to perform certain tasks or functions, or of being restricted in participating in everyday activities due to physical or mental impairment. Co–author Dr. Simkhada (BU Visiting Faculty & senior lecturer at University of Sheffield) noted: “to date little research has been conducted on societal attitudes towards disability in low–income countries such as Nepal”.

The study found that most women only considered as a disability physical and visual conditions that limit function of an individual, such as missing a leg or arm. Attitudes towards people with disability were generally positive; most women believed that disabled people have equal rights and should be allowed to sit on committees or get married. Just under two–thirds of the participating women were literate, but only 58% had attended school. Only half of the women considered blindness to be a disability. More than half did not consider deafness and not being able to speak to be a disability.

Furthermore, three out of four women did not consider epilepsy, diabetes, chronic mental illness, chronic back pain and learning difficulties to be a disability. However, more than three quarters of them regarded missing a hand (84%) or a leg (90%) as a disability. Most thought that disability could result from: (a) accidents; (b) medical conditions; or (c) genetic inheritance. Fewer women thought that disability was caused by fate or bad spirits.

The authors concluded that there is need to educate the general population in Nepal on disability, especially the invisible disabilities. Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen highlighted: “Nepal is largely a Hindu country, and still fairly traditional. Many Nepalese attach stigma to disabilities and the most vulnerable disabled groups include children and women.” Dr. Simkhada commented: “The first legislation in Nepal on disability and discrimination was but not properly implemented until the mid–1990s and that attitudes in the country are still in a process of change.”

For some people in Nepal depicted disability as suffering the wrath of God or being punished for the sin by family or a kind of penance for past misdeeds. It is clear that missing a limb was widely considered to be a disability but not being able to see, hear or speak were far less likely to be regarded as such. Even fewer regarded epilepsy, diabetes, chronic back pain and learning difficulties as a disability.

Part of the explanation lies in the Nepali term for disability ‘Apanga’ (missing organs). The language is, of course, influenced by social and cultural perceptions. Our findings were different from what one would expect from a more traditional society where religious beliefs play a huge role in day–to–day life. Many Nepalese women did not consider a range of conditions commonly accepted as a disability in industrialised societies as a disability. The study was funded by Green Tara Trust UK and ethical approval was granted by the Nepal Health Research Council (NHRC).

Simkhada, P., Shyangdan, D., van Teijlingen E., Kadel, S., Stephen, J., Gurung, T. (2012) Women’s Knowledge and Attitude towards Disability in Rural Nepal. Disability & Rehabilitation Epub ahead of print.