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The Place Of Disability In International Relations

17/03/2016 8:23 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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International relations as a discipline has evolved quite a bit since its inception centuries ago, incorporating over the years various strands of political philosophy and thinking such as realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism and even feminism. Issues related to ethnicity, class, race, gender and now even sexuality are being talked about by scholars across regions. Strangely, however, people with disabilities are absent from this discourse. The fact is, a very important part of the human race is being overlooked. According to the United Nations, more than 1 billion people - 15% of the global population - are suffering from some kind of disability.

What's more, 80% of persons with disabilities live in developing countries. One can argue that the less a country is developed, the greater its chances of having a relatively larger disabled population. A nation with large disabled population can't realize its true potential because the potential of a nation comes from its population.

An important reason why the disabled population is nearly four times more in developing nations is because these countries are the theatres of war.

According to a UNDP report, the global literacy rate for adults with disabilities is only 3% and for women, this plummets to 1%. Their physical limitations along with a lack of education make this population even more vulnerable and less likely to get jobs and be self-sufficient.

In a developed country, the situation is better for differently-abled people as they get a higher standard of medical assistance, education and training to do jobs in order to make them independent. Secondly, the number of children born with disabilities and those who become disabled after birth due to accidents are also relatively very low as compared to undeveloped countries.

Developing countries see a higher incidence of disability partly because of their poor healthcare systems and medical facilities. Pregnant women do not have access to quality prenatal care (if at all) and children are born with a disadvantage that only gets perpetuated further due to systemic and structural problems related to poverty and underdevelopment in these societies. A child with disability is seen as a burden and is rarely given proper care; he or she is often neglected or even disowned.

Another important reason why the disabled population is nearly four times more in developing nations is because these countries are the theatres of war. Nearly most of the northern parts of Africa, a substantial portion of Middle East and South Asia are facing violence on different levels. Some regions like North Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, Chad and Somalia have been torn apart by continuous civil wars between armed groups. As a result, many people have ended up with permanent disabilities. The situation in the Middle East is also very bad.

Other than that, in war and conflict zones, persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence or rape (this is true even of the US, incidentally). These people are the last ones to get access to any kind of help in these situations and are left to their fate as they can't flee the area like able bodied persons.

In war and conflict zones, persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence or rape.

The situation becomes grave because due to war, even hospitals and international medical aid agency camps are specifically targeted. So, we can say anyone can end up with a disability, even more so in war and conflict zones. Meanwhile, those who are already disabled suffer from more exploitation.

It's also worth considering that in every war many soldiers or armed rebels get permanently disabled making them non-useful for service; they get sidelined with immediate effect from ground service and gradually from the system. So, in effect war studies is in fact related to disability studies because war leads to disability and extreme forms of exploitation to the already existing disabled population.

Another important aspect of this problem is that of child soldiers getting injured and subsequently getting permanently disabled. They are in a particular quandary since they were handed guns at an age when they should have been given pens. The rehabilitation of these people into mainstream society is a very important part of the disarmament process. That is why scholars of disarmament and security studies have emphasized that until the rehabilitation process is done comprehensively, the 'pervasive violence' within the society still exists.

Without disability studies, our understanding of war and its effects on the population cannot be deemed complete.

Given that disarmament and security studies are an important part of international relations, it follows that the study of disabilities too should find a place as a specialized area of study in this area. Since women with disabilities are worst sufferers of war, the question of gender is also involved. Overall, the need of the hour is to develop a separate branch of disability studies in international relations to look into issues related to violence, exploitation, illiteracy, poverty and sexual abuse at a deeper level than just through the lenses of feminist and disarmament studies.

The sheer neglect of academicians, scholars, politicians, bureaucrats and security analysts in developing this area can be attributed directly to the neglect of the disabled population. Without disability studies, our understanding of war and its effects on the population cannot be deemed complete.

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