True social development cannot take place without the participation as well as empowerment of visually impaired women and youth. A pertinent observation is that the nature of their involvement in various organizations of and for the blind has greatly varied across time and space. In the past, many visually impaired women outside the Asian Blind Union region have demonstrated conclusively that, given the right opportunity, they can prove to be great assets not only to the organizations they belonged to, but to the entire community. These path-breaking group of ladies was, of course, spearheaded by the legendary figure, Helen Keller, with many others following in her footsteps. In the present century, the strand of such commendable leader ship has been continued in the World Blind Union, the apex international body of the blind. Visually impaired ladies from Sweden and Australia have held the office of the President of the Union with remarkable success. In Asian region, however, very few such instances of leadership from amongst visually impaired women have come to light.
We have hardly any instances of a visually impaired lady leading the Regional Union or even any of the national organizations in their respective countries. This is the hitherto known situation, despite the fact that women constitute (though no reliable statistical data is available) half or nearly half of the visually impaired population in Asian countries. What then is the factual position? What are the causative factors – these and related questions call for systematic investigation.
Similarly, young visually impaired men and women hold a reservoir of largely untapped energy and potential. Yes, many of them have excelled in various spheres in developed countries – an American conquering Mount Everest, a British ex-pilot making a solo flight London-Sydney-London, a few persons working with the armed forces for intelligence-gathering in Belgium, the Netherlands, etc. Of course, there are large numbers of young people engaged in routine economic activities, too, with many participating in programmes to support their visually impaired peers.
In Asian region as well many visually impaired young persons have made a mark for themselves in different fields of work. They function as advocates, entrepreneurs, IT professionals, school and college teachers, government officials, craftsmen, village workers, etc., besides carrying out a host of routine and traditional activities. Yet, these gainfully employed individuals are but a small minority leaving out multitudinous numbers languishing in deprivation and neglect.
Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that the situation about the participation of these young persons in organizations of and for the blind has remained mostly unknown, even unchartered. These organizations could aspire for balanced growth and sustained development only when they are tinged with vibrant youthful energy. What is the extent, if any, of their participation in such organizational activities – is a basic question with implications for future programming and advancement of our organizations?
It was in this background and context that the present workshop was taken up to explore the status of participation of visually impaired women and youth in organizations working with the blind in the Asian region.
The Asian Blind Union consists of three sub regions, namely South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. The Asian Blind Union did a research and the results showed that women in Asia are not actively engaged in organizational activities. In order to develop the leadership qualities of vision impaired men and women a programme was organized in Bahrain in December 2014 on “Policy Development with emphases on Asian Blind Union gender balance policy to increase the involvement of active visually impaired women in the region”. Vision impaired persons from South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East participated in the workshop. Ms. Manique gunaratne represented Sri Lanka at this workshop as an Executive Committee member of the Asian Blind Union.