Neglected and Forgotten: Women with Disabilities during the Covid Crisis in India


The government of India announced a nationwide lockdown to combat Covid-19 on March 24, 2020, giving over 1.3 billion citizens – including 26.8 million people with disabilities, 11.8 million of whom are women – just four hours to prepare. This 93-page report discusses the barriers women with disabilities faced during the lockdown, in accessing physical and digital spaces, information and communication, education, employment, as well as food, health and other essential services.

The report was published on July 14, 2020, by Rising Flame, Mumbai, and the UK-based Sightsavers India, both of which focus on the rights of persons with disabilities. It presents the results of a study where 82 women with disabilities, 12 subject experts and nine disability groups were interviewed, across 19 states and union territories – Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

The publication contains 13 chapters: Executive Summary (chapter 1); Background (chapter 2); Methodology (chapter 3); Access (chapter 4); Food and Essentials (chapter 5); Social Protection (chapter 6); Health, Sanitation and Hygiene (chapter 7); Education (chapter 8); Employment and Livelihood (chapter 9); Domestic Violence (chapter 10); Emotional Wellbeing (chapter 11); Recommendations (chapter 12) and Specific Recommendations on Inclusion of Women with Disabilities in Disaster Management Guidelines and Processes (chapter 13).


  1. Of the 82 women with disabilities interviewed, 12 reported that they had insufficient access to food during the lockdown, and 10 said that they had trouble procuring supplies from the public distribution system.

  2. None of the 28 women who were eligible for the central government’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana received a direct benefit transfer of Rs. 1,000 under the scheme.

  3. During the lockdown, many workplaces operated remotely to abide by the government’s social distancing rules. However, digital accessibility and internet services are limited in rural India, where – according to Census 2011 – 69 per cent of the country’s disabled population resides.

  4. Apart from network issues, several of the survey's participants faced difficulty in accessing digital and mobile applications, like e-commerce apps Paytm and BHIM.

  5. The report says that the literacy rate among women with disabilities is often assumed to be around 45 per cent, but is actually 25 per cent.

  6. The report notes that during the lockdown, state support – the provision of food and other essentials – for persons with disabilities has been sporadic. In most states, government employees answering helplines were not trained to speak to, or address the needs of, persons with disabilities. Further, helplines were inaccessible to deaf persons.

  7. About 67 per cent of the persons with disabilities surveyed in a 2020 study by the Delhi-based National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, did not receive any ‘doorstep delivery’ of essentials from the government.

  8. The report states the central government spends only 0.03 per cent of India’s gross domestic product on the welfare of persons with disabilities.

  9. Only 0.7 per cent of India’s persons with disabilities have been recipients of the central government’s Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension scheme, which promises Rs. 500 every month to persons with ‘severe’ disabilities.

  10. Census 2011 states that the unemployment rate of women with disabilities (77 per cent) was considerably more than that of men with disabilities (52.8 per cent).

  11. Data from the National Statistical Organisation shows that in 2018, only 1.4 per cent of persons with disabilities reported receiving formal vocational training.

  12. The report states that nearly 80 per cent of women with disabilities in India have been victims of some kind of violence. It is hard to ascertain the exact number of such cases as domestic violence is severely under-reported.

  13. Globally, less than 20 per cent of people with disabilities have some source of income, according to data from the International Labour Organization. Further, men with disabilities are nearly twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities, who experience inequality in hiring and promotion standards, access to credit and other productive resources and ‘occupational segregation’.

  14. An estimated 75 to 85 per cent of people with disabilities do not have access to any form of mental health treatment, according to 2010 data from the World Health Organization.

    Focus and Factoids by Adrija Bhadra.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Rising Flame, Mumbai, and Sightsavers, UK


Rising Flame, Mumbai, and Sightsavers, UK


14 Jul, 2020