The Indigenous World 2024: Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN)

With disability rates on the rise, the global Indigenous community is confronted with profound challenges. An estimated 54 million Indigenous individuals face disabilities, of whom 28 million are Indigenous women. Within the Asia Pacific region alone, 45 million Indigenous persons with disabilities are facing extreme poverty and vulnerability, exacerbated by inadequate services and the perils of disasters and climate crises.

Their existence is marred by constraints, as their lives are subject to external determinants, denying them the autonomy to exercise their individual and collective rights. The struggle lies in navigating the contradiction between asserting their rights and succumbing to societal norms that undermine their journey towards equality and human rights.

Conventional disability paradigms fall short in embracing the collective rights and cultural identities of Indigenous communities. Rooted in colonial perspectives, these frameworks perpetuate a narrow understanding of disability, predominantly focusing on individual deficits and systemic structures. Consequently, policies, programmes, and support services often overlook Indigenous values, social customs, and traditional knowledge systems.

The narrative of Indigenous persons with disabilities challenges the dominant worldview, urging a shift towards inclusive and culturally-sensitive approaches. It underscores the imperative of recognizing Indigenous rights to self-determination and cultural autonomy within disability discourse.

In redefining disability through an Indigenous lens, Indigenous persons with disabilities ae embarking on a journey towards equity, honouring diversity, and empowering marginalized voices in the pursuit of genuine inclusion and social justice.

Unvoiced, unheard, unseen: the struggle of Indigenous persons and women with disabilities

The struggles that confront the global Indigenous communities and peoples affects us as well because we too are members of Indigenous Peoples’ communities first and foremost, living with various types of disabilities. Therefore, if our presence is not recognized and excluded from the struggles of all Indigenous Peoples, we will be further marginalized by the very society that we struggle to be a part of - Ipul Powaseu[1]

Indigenous persons with disabilities navigate a unique intersection where “racism” and “ableism” converge, compounding the challenges of multiple marginalized identities. This intersectionality underscores a shared experience of social isolation, discrimination, and vulnerability faced by Indigenous individuals and women with disabilities globally. Rooted in historical, structural, and systemic biases, they endure hardships ranging from homelessness and unemployment to familial separation, violence, abuse, and trauma. Lacking adequate support systems, Indigenous persons and women with disabilities grapple with a complex array of challenges worldwide.

Low rates of Indigenous persons' engagement with disability support services stem from a dual challenge: the current framework of disability services often fails to align with Indigenous values and social norms, while Indigenous communities harbour mistrust towards service providers. Moreover, the concept of “othering” exacerbates the issue, as disabled Indigenous identities are stigmatized both within non-Indigenous and Indigenous contexts. Consequently, the multifaceted issues surrounding Indigenous Peoples and women with disabilities remain marginalized and overlooked in both disability and Indigenous discourse. Without a nuanced understanding of these complexities, they struggle to assert their identities and navigate societal acceptance. Addressing these challenges necessitates comprehensive approaches that acknowledge the intersecting factors that shape contemporary disability and Indigenous inquiries.

Discrimination discouraging organizations of Indigenous persons with disabilities

In the lurking gap between the dominant existing disability worldview and the State-led structures and polices, many Indigenous Peoples have lost their traditional customary institutions and are isolated, alienated, fragmented, assimilated and co-opted by State structures for their unification. In this process of uniting for their collective voices, Indigenous persons and women with disabilities have remained critical due to unequal power dynamics; they face discrimination and humiliation by the service provider. The duty bearer seems either unaware of or to disregard the UNDRIP and ILO Convention 169, and laws, draft bills, ordinances and policies are therefore not shaped in line with internationally agreed mandates such as the UNDRIP, ILO Convention 169, CRPD and CEDAW.

Indigenous persons and women with disabilities across Nepal and other Asian countries face discrimination, humiliation, and discouragement from service providers and stakeholders when asserting their rights and establishing organizations. Instances of exclusion and derogatory language in official documents and discussions further marginalize them, limiting their access to State services. Similar challenges are echoed in Bangladesh, Indonesia and beyond, where individuals with disabilities encounter internal and external pressures that silence their advocacy efforts. Combating these injustices requires raising awareness and legitimizing their voices through various channels in order to challenge unequal power dynamics and unfair treatment.

Unvoiced, unheard and undebated on Indigenous persons and women with disabilities’ issues

In navigating State mechanisms, Indigenous persons and women with disabilities face hurdles in advocating for their rights amidst various organizations representing disability, Indigenous, and women's interests. Across Asia and beyond, Indigenous women with disabilities express frustration that their voices are marginalized from discussions on inclusion, Indigenous rights, and disability issues at national and local levels.

Despite international frameworks such as the UNDRIP, ILO Convention 169, the WCIP outcome document, the UNCRPD, and others, which recognize the rights of Indigenous persons and women with disabilities, they struggle to openly address their issues and agendas within their communities. The challenges they face include issues not being prioritized or being excluded, limited inclusion leading to tokenism, and agendas being lumped together with other marginalized groups.

As a result, their voices remain marginalized and their concerns often unaddressed in public discourse and documentation.

Seeking meaningful inclusion within Indigenous philanthropy

Indigenous persons and women with disabilities globally face significant challenges in accessing funding and understanding its mechanisms. At the 2nd Global Conference on Indigenous Peoples Funders in Mexico (Feb 2023),[2] discussions emphasized disability-inclusive investment and accessibility, underscoring the need for persons with disabilities in decision-making roles within fund boards.

During the Sixth Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum at IFAD in Rome (Feb 2023),[3] the focus was on Indigenous Peoples’ Climate Leadership. Pratima Gurung, a Board member of the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF), incorporated disability-related language and representation into the discussions, aligning with IFAD's Disability Inclusion Strategy 2022-2027.

Furthermore, in 2023, the Indigenous Peoples of Asia Solidarity (IPAS) Fund [4] established its governing board. Envisaging the inclusion of women, youth, and persons with disabilities, IPAS represents a historic step towards regional solidarity, accountability, and mobilization of funds across Asia. Its official launch at COP 28 underscores a call to action, setting a precedent for Indigenous philanthropy worldwide.

Co-creating spaces for disability-inclusive climate action at COP 28

Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association - Nepal (NIDWAN) and Sustained Ability have played a pivotal role in advocating for disability-inclusive climate action. Recent global conversations initiated by organizations supporting persons with disabilities have seen increased participation from Indigenous disability organizations such as the Endorois Indigenous Women Empowerment Network (EIWEN), IPWDGN, and others.

Following interventions at COP 27 and the 58th Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 58), NIDWAN continued its engagement by hosting six side events during COP 28. These events aimed to amplify the voices and agendas of Indigenous persons and women with disabilities on various themes, including climate justice, women's leadership, community-led research, and gender equality in the context of climate change impacts.

Collaborating with organizations such as WHO, ARROW, IWRAW, LILAK, KAMY, Women and Gender Constituency, DRF/DRAF, MRG, and others, NIDWAN's president attended these meetings, advocating for recognition of the challenges faced by Indigenous persons and women with disabilities amidst the current climate crisis. This ongoing process signifies a significant step towards disability-, Indigeneity- and gender-inclusive climate initiatives on the global stage.

Implementing CEDAW General Recommendation (GR) No 39 and discussion on upcoming General Comment (GC) on CRPD Article 11

The implementation of CEDAW GR 39 has been crucial in addressing historical discrimination against Indigenous women, girls, and women with disabilities, highlighting their pivotal role in preserving cultures, languages, and collective rights. In August 2023, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact organized regional training on CEDAW GR 39 in Kuala Lumpur, with participation from Indigenous women with disabilities from Nepal. The training fostered multidisciplinary discussions on the multifaceted identities of Indigenous women and girls with disabilities, fuelling advocacy efforts within communities.

At the national level, Indigenous Women and Women with Disabilities organizations in Nepal have translated CEDAW GR 39 into Nepali and other accessible formats, sensitizing communities and duty bearers.

The Global Network and NIDWAN have actively engaged in side events and discussions concerning the upcoming General Comment on CRPD Article 11. Notably, interventions were made during the Half Day Discussion on CRPD Article 11, focusing on food insecurity and situations of risk, organized by the World Food Programme and Trinity College Dublin in March 2023. Furthermore, discussions with the CRPD committee and the Special Rapporteur on Persons with Disabilities aimed to advocate for a dedicated section on Indigenous persons with disabilities and their vulnerability to climate change in the upcoming General Comment on Article 11.

Engaging in global and regional initiatives

Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

Human Rights and Environment Award 2023 to Pratima Gurung, Global Coalition Member from Asia

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a cornerstone of global justice, has celebrated its 75th anniversary, guiding international, national, and local laws towards equality and freedom. The Human Rights and Environment Award was established in 2023, championing the right to a clean, sustainable environment. A coalition of over 1,350 organizations worldwide played a pivotal role in advocating for this recognition. Pratima Gurung, representing Asia, was honoured as a coalition member in 2023. This award, to be presented every five years, acknowledges human rights defenders who are advancing environmental and human rights globally.[5]

A Global Report Identifying International Good Practices in electoral participation for Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities through case studies in Guatemala, Kenya and Nepal was published in Stockholm, Sweden on 5 September 2023 in collaboration with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. NIDWAN from Asia, FGT from Latin America, and EIWEN from Africa contributed to the research, identifying gaps and barriers in the inclusivity of electoral systems for Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities across the three regions.[6] This has added avenues for critical discourse on the political participation of Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities.

In another initiative, the Asia Development Bank, Asia Pacific Region, has developed Equality and Disability Inclusion Guidelines to address the specific needs of women and girls with disabilities through an intersectional lens. Prominent speakers, including Pratima Gurung, General Secretary of the Global Network, introduced the policy/guidelines at the ADB regional headquarters on 12 December 2023.

Additionally, NIDWAN, in collaboration with ARROW, unveiled insights from a Scoping Study on the nexus of climate change on sexual and reproductive health and rights among Indigenous women and girls with disabilities in the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Nepal.[7] The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction furthermore conducted the Global Survey Report on Persons with Disabilities and Disasters 2023 to assess progress in disability inclusion in disaster risk reduction.

The South Asia Peoples Forum on Sustainable Development 2023 facilitated discussions on structural barriers and systemic issues related to the sustainable development goals, emphasizing a need to change systems and shift power dynamics. In December 2023, virtual sessions highlighted challenges such as violence against women from minority communities in South Asia, addressing Indigenous women’s and women with disabilities' concerns.

Engagement in the UNFCCC COP 28 through a side event focused on reaching Indigenous and Minority Persons with Disabilities, aiming to tackle ableism and racism through intersectional advocacy. Pratima Gurung, representing the Global Network, emphasized the equitable and meaningful participation of Indigenous People with Disabilities at all levels during the opening plenary session.

Representatives from Africa and Asia participated in SBSTA 58 in Germany for the first time, engaging in discussions on climate action, loss and damage, and Indigenous Peoples' inclusion and accessibility requirements.

Lastly, the General Secretary of the Global Network held meetings with various Special Rapporteurs to advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous persons with disabilities, emphasizing their vulnerability to climate change and their access to food security.

In their collective efforts, Indigenous persons and women with disabilities seek visibility and inclusion across all spheres of life, demanding to be heard, seen, and counted to ensure that no one is left behind.



Ms Pratima Gurung belongs to the Gurung Indigenous Peoples community from Nepal. She is a faculty member at Padmakanya College under Tribhuvan University, Nepal. She is General Secretary of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] Presented at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in a side event by Ipul Powaseu, Pacific Member of the Indigenous Person with Disabilities Global Network, 11 May 2012.

[2] International Funders for Indigenous Peoples 2023 Global Conference. “Shifting Power: Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Leadership and Self-determination,” 22-24 February 2023.

[3] Sixth global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 13 February 2023.

[4] Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara – AMAN. “Enhancing Visibility: Establishing Indigenous Peoples of Asia Solidarity (IPAS) Fund.” 23 November 2023.,language%20barriers%2C%20restrictions%20from%20governments%2C%20and%20capacity%20issues.

[5] General Assembly of the United Nations. “Winners of 2023 UN Human Rights Prize Announced.” 20 July 2023.

[6] International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). 2023. Identifying International Good Practices through Case Studies in Guatemala, Kenya, and Nepal

[7] The Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW). “Nepal Scoping Study: Amplifying Voices of Indigenous Women and Girls with Disabilities on the Nexus of Climate Change and SRHR.” 2023.

Tags: Women, Global governance, Climate, Human rights, International Processes



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

For media inquiries click here

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
CVR: 81294410

Report possible misconduct, fraud, or corruption

 instagram social icon facebook_social_icon.png   youtuble_logo_icon.png  linkedin_social_icon.png twitter-x-icon.png 

NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you do not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand