Voices of the Marginalised.

Bangladesh and Tanzania.

  • Full title: Research study: Voices of the Marginalised.
  • Status: Published.
  • Dates: 2012-2016.
  • Location: Bangladesh and Tanzania.
  • Who are we working with? Sightsavers and HelpAge International, people with disabilities and older people. With the support of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the UK and Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania.

A bit of context.

What is the reality of everyday life for people with disabilities living in developing countries?

There is very little qualitative and quantitative data on disability related issues worldwide. 'Voices of the Marginalised' is a pioneering research study aimed at understanding the specific challenges faced by men and women with disabilities and older people, living in two different countries – Bangladesh and Tanzania.

The stories collected in each report tell of the experiences of older people and persons with disabilities in one country, at one moment in time, providing valuable testimony of the considerable equality and poverty challenges they face – in particular in securing livelihoods; accessing public services; living free of discrimination, bullying, harassment and violence; and accessing justice.

A new approach.

The methodology chosen was a community-based participatory approach: in other words, persons with disabilities and older people were asked to become researchers themselves, and were trained to collect and analyse stories from peers in rural and urban areas.

Staff from local organisations were also trained as researchers to gather stories from colleagues working with persons with disabilities and older people.

The report.

The aim of 'Voices of the Marginalised' is to bring the perspectives of those who live in poverty or who are highly marginalised, including those with disabilities, older people and people living with mental health problems, into post-2015 policymaking.

The Bangladesh report: 'We can also make change'.

Download the briefing document   

Download the full report   

Download the summary   


The Tanzania report: 'Hear my voice: old age and disability are not a curse'

Download the full report

Download the summary


The growing consensus on the need to focus more directly on inequalities in order to achieve sustainable development which benefits all stems from the broad recognition that the poorest and most marginalized have not benefitted equitably from development efforts within the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework.

These reports:

  • Argue the case for a greater focus on horizontal inequalities which relate to social factors of ‘difference’, and which contribute to marginalisation. 
  • Highlight the importance of bringing the ‘lived experience’ in to the analysis and policymaking process through initiatives such as the ‘Voices of the Marginalised’ research project. 

The research was conducted in Bangladesh and Tanzania only; however, it is widely – if perhaps not as vividly – documented elsewhere that persons with disabilities and older people experience similar challenges throughout the developing world. Much remains to be done to promote and achieve their full participation in political, economic, social and cultural life. 

Key findings. 

Work and dignity are rare. 

'I am living by borrowing from other people and relatives here and there. I am just surviving. I only get the disability allowance'. Imran, aged approximately 45. 

Persons with disabilities and older people are commonly viewed as a burden on the household. Often they are abandoned and many move to urban areas to beg.

Public services are inaccessible.

'Because she was disabled and poor, she couldn’t study…Generally in our country, girls are neglected. If they are disabled there is no end to their suffering'. Anonymous respondent. 

The twin effects of discrimination and poverty mean older people and those with disabilities are frequently unable to access public services, in particular health care and education. Girls with disabilities find it particularly difficult to access education and when they do, they can face the additional problem of bullying and discrimination.

Bullying and violence are everyday experiences.

'Children used to tease and beat my grand-daughter. She couldn’t concentrate on the class work for long'. Grandmother of 13-year-old Abida.

Discrimination, intimidation, harassment and violence can be everyday experiences for some persons with disabilities and older people – even in their home life. Ignorance about disability is common, often seen as the result of evil spirits or sin, or considered to be contagious. Women and children with disabilities can be at greater risk from violence.

Recommendations for policymakers.

If there is one message only from the stories heard in this research, it is of the vital importance of the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and older people in developing and negotiating the post-2015 development agenda. Their experiences are what count in working towards a rights-based framework for all and a more positive future for persons with disabilities and older people in particular.

Based on our own experiences as organisations working for the rights of disabled and older people, we have drawn specific recommendations for policymakers:

  1. Ratify and implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD); and support the elaboration of a UN convention on the rights of older people.
  2. Ensure that age and disability are treated as crosscutting themes in all post-2015 development goals; and support improved disability and older-person data gathering and analysis mechanisms.
  3. Promote the full and equal participation of older people and persons with disabilities in social and political life.

More information.