Now is best time for inclusion of persons with disabilities in ZEC processes
By Tsepang Nare
The advent of the second millennium has seen Persons with disabilities (PWDs) making significant strides in defining their purpose in the society while adamantly fighting to put an end to structural and systemic barriers of stigmatisation and discrimination. In staying true to their cause, the clarion call has been to ensure inclusion is not a programme but a mindset. By so doing, it fosters an enabling environment to deliver and showcase those abilities which are often not exhibited because the potential has not been tapped into. Thus, it can never be over emphasised that there is need to see a human being first who needs to be part of decision making before recognising the disability.
In the spirit of ensuring that the rights and fundamental freedoms of PWDs are recognised and such people are accorded the respect and opportunities they deserve, the 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution under section 22 and section 83 notes that “The state must take appropriate measures within the limits of the available resources to it, to ensure that persons with disabilities realise their full mental and physical potential”. This relates to access to education, health care, provision of welfare programmes and putting measures in place to bring about equal access to services and building facilities.
Hailing all efforts undertaken to put such provisions in place, the constitution further recognises the need to uphold the right to participation through self-representation by placing a provision for two disabled representatives to be elected into the house of senate as stated by Section 120(d).
Therefore, in paving a developmental pathway that will subsequently result in the realisation of the country’s Vision 2030 where persons with disabilities are at the forefront of initiating and leading development, there is need for more heightened and deliberate efforts to ensure there is an increase in representation as well as the visibility of PWDs in all structures which includes the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Following government’s commitment to promoting disability rights through the launch of the National Disability Policy and the call for the public to send in nominations for interested candidates to be commissioners, it is indeed a perfect time for the commission to be inclusive and be fully represented.
Over the years, PWDs have been left out of electoral processes and key decision making in as far as elections are concerned resulting in some voting places not being easily accessible because at times where tents have been pitched, it’s inaccessible making it difficult for a wheelchair user to manoeuvre, whereas many a time the polling station will be too far for someone with mobility restrictions.
Also highlighting the issue of not having tactile ballot papers in place resulting in continued assistance of PWDs especially those with visual impairments come election time which is a hindrance to their full independence and a violation to the right to privacy.
On many occasions, persons with disabilities do not get adequate voter education whereas those PWDs interested to participate in the exercise are often not considered or are just an after-thought.
In such circumstances, those conducting the exercise may not be adept with using various methods of communication which includes sign language and braille.
They may not be able to also clearly understand some members with speech impairments. Thus, the inclusion of a candidate with a disability among commissioners bridges the gap and restores public confidence especially to this group often left out.
Moreover, such a move would validate government’s commitment to ensure there is equality which culminates into diversity being a key component in the success and fairness of electoral processes that result in the entrenchment of democracy.
The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) which Zimbabwe signed in 2018 also buttresses that “State parties shall promote participation of social groups with special needs, including the Youth and People with disabilities, in government processes”.
Therefore, the success of a nation is underpinned by the promotion of a representative system, gender equality and disability sensitive approaches and mechanisms in public and private institutions as well as harnessing effective citizen participation in democratic and developmental processes and in the governance of public affairs to bring about transparency and fairness.
In achieving this shared dream, it takes willingness and that deliberate effort to ensure no one is left behind.
Tsepang T. Nare is a Disability Development Practitioner. He can be contactable on email: [email protected] and phone, 0776 249 903