Many of the girls who were previously marginalised within their communities for having a disability have gone on to win medals at national championships across the country, and some are also now qualified to teach other girls self-defence.
“Education has given me wisdom, but self-defence has given me confidence to showcase my strength,” says 20-year old Nikki Lodhi who won a silver medal in the 2016 championships and is currently studying for school exams.
Nikki found her confidence grew when she started competing at national level. She now moves around independently and aspires to teach self-defence to other women. She also feels more respected and valued in her community.
Madhya Pradesh is widely reported to have the highest number of rape cases in India.* Women with disabilities such as blindness and visual impairment face a higher risk of being targeted by physical and sexual attackers.
As a result many women with disabilities aren’t able to leave their homes as they and their families feel the risk of abuse is too high for them to go out unaccompanied. With scarce resources this means many are denied their rights to go to school, seek employment or independence.
Harshal Jariwala, Sightsavers Programme Officer, says: “Before learning judo, many of the girls we trained were looked down on for having a disability by their communities and they had no confidence. Judo allowed them to find their voice; they are now assertive, they travel independently, some have gone back to school and some have found employment.
“This transformation has changed the way they are seen by their families and communities. The judo girls are respected and admired. They are invited to participate in many important meetings in their local areas. Judo has changed people’s perception of blindness, of visual impairment, of disability and what young women can achieve.”
Through its Put Us in the Picture campaign, Sightsavers argues that a similar approach of listening to people with disabilities needs to be adopted within all international development efforts.
“Sightsavers’ India team could never have predicted the remarkable impact that judo would have on the lives of the women who took part in the programme,” says Natasha Kennedy, Head of Sightsavers’ Put Us in the Picture campaign.
“When these blind and visually impaired young women asked to learn Judo in 2014 our Bhopal team listened to them. They understood that people with disabilities are the experts in their own empowerment.”
“This is the message we want to share. We need to hear the voices of people with disabilities in all development programmes.
“People with disabilities are some of the most marginalised people in the world. For many decades international development efforts have marginalised and left out women and girls with disabilities. All women and girls with disabilities have a right to influence and shape their own lives.”
In the six decades since its foundation, globally, Sightsavers has:
• Supported over 873 million treatments for neglected tropical diseases (of which 480,239,508 are for the potentially blinding diseases trachoma and river blindness)
• Carried out over 9.39 million operations to restore sight
• Trained more than 522,000 primary eye care workers
• Carried out rehabilitation training for 210,889 blind or low vision beneficiaries
• Supported 46,573 blind or low vision children to gain a school education