On February 8th, Pakistan witnessed its 14th general elections, marking another milestone in the country’s democratic journey. However, the celebrations of strengthened democracy are marred by a stark reality – a substantial impediment to the full exercise of political rights for all citizens, particularly persons with disabilities (PWDs). As I cast my ballot during this crucial electoral event, I couldn’t ignore the distressing observation of a pronounced lack of accessibility in the majority of Pakistan’s polling stations for PWDs.
Shining a spotlight on this issue reveals a stark contrast between the constitutional promise of equality for all Pakistani citizens, as enshrined in Article 25, and the exclusion faced persons with disabilities in Paksitan. Despite being signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which specifically calls for the guarantee of political rights for PWDs, the harsh reality remains that the political landscape in Pakistan is far from inclusive.
As per Human Rights Watch, estimates of the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) population in Pakistan range widely from 3.3 million to 27 million. Regrettably, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) possesses data for only 371,833 PWDs, and among them, a mere 165,927 are registered voters. This alarming discrepancy not only deprives PWDs of their fundamental right to vote but also impedes their active participation in the political process. Astonishingly, the absence of any elected representatives with disabilities in Pakistan’s assemblies raises significant concerns about the authentic representation of their voices on the national stage.
The failure to uphold political rights for PWDs is evident not only in the lack of inclusivity in polling stations but also in the overall electoral process. Critical aspects such as braille ballot papers, wheelchairs, ramps, signages, and sign language interpreters are sorely absent. Many polling stations are situated on inaccessible first floors, without the necessary infrastructure for persons with physical disabilities. The lack of wider entry gates and pathways further exacerbates the mobility challenges faced by PWDs.
As the 5th most populous country globally, with a population of persons with disabilities exceeding that of many countries, Pakistan should strive to make its electoral process truly inclusive. The Election Commission of Pakistan must take immediate steps to ensure accessible polling stations, with provisions for braille materials, wheelchairs, ramps, signages, and interpreters. Political parties, too, must engage with and prioritize the rights of persons with disabilities, ensuring their voices are heard and their needs addressed in the political sphere.
In conclusion, the upcoming years present an opportunity for Pakistan to rectify its shortcomings and embrace inclusivity. By ensuring the full participation of persons with disabilities in the democratic process, the nation can move towards a future where every citizen truly enjoys the right to vote and actively engage in shaping the destiny of the country. It’s time for Pakistan to live up to its constitutional promises and international commitments, fostering a political landscape that truly reflects the diversity and inclusivity of its population.