Roundtable to enhance political participation of WWDs

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Islamabad :To enhance political participation of women with disability (WWD), participants of a roundtable discussion stressed for concrete measures to ensure issuance of national identity cards to WDDs and voter’s registration besides making polling stations accessible for the disabled persons.

The demand was highlighted at a roundtable discussion titled organised on Thursday titled ‘Making an Inclusive Pakistan Elections Regime: Roundtable Discussion on Political Participation of Women with Disabilities’ organised by Special Talent Exchange Programme (STEP) in collaboration with the High Commission of Canada, Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) and National Forum of Women with Disabilities (NFWWD).

Speakers and participants of the round table called for developing and implementing a comprehensive gender strategy by the ECP aiming at enhanced participation of persons with disabilities especially women in 2018 general elections.

The event was attended by key representatives from Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), National and International Development organizations, Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services, Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections and leading Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs).

The representatives of DPOs urged political parties to adopt a meaningful outreach policy to reach persons with disabilities when creating election campaign strategies and developing policy positions. They also encouraged political parties to include persons with disabilities as candidates and in leadership roles.

They demanded the government to take actions for issuance of national identity cards and voter’s registration, assistance in the voting booth, tactile ballot guides, low voting booths, magnifying glasses and large grip pens and accessible infrastructure such as ramps and building layouts that allow for easy manoeuvre by those who use assistive devices.

They also suggested support for the government institutions such as legislatures and the Election Commission of Pakistan to create legal and regulatory frameworks that provide an opportunity for increasing political participation of persons with disabilities and encourage partnerships with DPOs.

Speaking on this occasion, Perry Calderwood, High Commissioner of Canada said Canadian government believes that participation of women in democratic processes is critical for a legitimate and inclusive government. He shared that there are 35 accessibility criteria for polling stations in Canada and among them, 15 are mandatory where as others such as sign language assistance and special print outs of ballot papers with bigger words etc can be requested. He said that all elections officers, around 250,000 in number, are trained to deal with people with special needs.

Nighat Siddique from EC said that EC 12.17 million women in Pakistan are not even registered as voters because they don’t posses identity cards. She said that EC has asked NADRA to make identity cards of the missing women and for that, EC commission is assisting NADRA in identification of districts where CNIC registration is required. She said that EC will involve civil society organizations and political parties to ensure registration of maximum number of women.

Shabir Ahmed from International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) suggested conducting disability audit of selected polling stations and making them disable friendly to show that not much sources are required to get rid of this big hurdle in the way of political participation of disabled persons.

Chief Executive Officer of NFWWD Abia Akram stressed the need of collaborative efforts. She said that first step to initiate a change is to indulge into a dialogue. Talking about the accessibility issue, she said that even for the roundtable, two participants from Balochistan were not allowed to travel by the airline.

General Secretary WPC Shaista Pervaiz Malik said that consultation on the draft Pakistan Disability Act 2017 has almost been completed and it would soon be presented in the parliament for approval. MNA Tahira Aurangziab recommended including WDD in the local bodies so that they can be given voice at the grassroots level.

Nasir Dar from Pakistan Deaf Association said that only providing ramp is not enough to address the needs of all PWDs. He demanded EC to make all information material understandable for blind, deaf and illiterate persons as majority of disabled persons are not liberated.