Inclusive Democratic Participation in Pakistan

NFWWD delegates and Women’s Parliamentary Caucus members at the symposium [STEP Pakistan].

The Director General (Gender and Disabilities) of the Election Commission of Pakistan, left, converses with an NFWWD leader [STEP Pakistan].

Living with restricted mobility, vision problems, poor hearing, and intellectual impairments are some of the realities facing women with disabilities in Pakistan.

Reporting on women with disabilities in Pakistan is complex due to a lack of reliable data. These women’s challenges are not always documented, accounted for, or analyzed.

In addition to poverty, illiteracy, geographical barriers, and a patriarchal social structure, access to democracy is a growing issue for marginalized women across the country.

Poor access to electoral processes ultimately limits the democratic participation of women with disabilities.

State response

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15% of the global population lives with a disability.

The National Forum for Women with Disabilities explains that women with disabilities in Pakistan face additional barriers due to their gender.

The Government of Pakistan is working to make elections more accessible. It plans to register the estimated 12.17 million Pakistani women who are currently not registered to vote, and to pass disability rights legislation.

The High Commission of Canada to Pakistan will continue to support inclusive elections where women are full participants in the democratic process [STEP Pakistan].

In Pakistan today, local activists have reported a change in dialogue when it comes to disability. The conversations have switched from a charitable or medical paradigm to a rights-based narrative.

The High Commission of Canada to Pakistan supports the growing dialogue in Pakistan on the full democratic participation of women with disabilities, as both voters and candidates. The High Commission recently funded and participated in a symposium organized by local NGO Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP) in collaboration with the National Forum for Women with Disabilities (NFWWD).

The symposium brought together activists, parliamentarians and the Election Commission of Pakistan in what is believed to be the first-ever inclusive stakeholders’ discussion specifically on women with disabilities and access to democracy.

Members of civil society, including representatives from the NFWWD and the Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections, and government officials, including representatives from the Election Commission of Pakistan and a dozen Members of the National Assembly, came together for dialogue on key issues.

A rights-based narrative

Chief Executive Officer of NFWWD Abia Akram said that the first step towards change is dialogue. She also discussed the need for collaborative efforts.

Sharing Canadian perspectives and experiences, High Commissioner Perry Calderwood spoke about Canada’s progress toward more inclusive elections. From the election of 1917 when only some women were allowed to vote, to Indigenous Canadians gaining the right to vote in 1960, to ensuring today’s polling stations are fully accessible, Canada continues to work towards a fully inclusive democracy.

“Full participation of women in democratic processes is critical for a legitimate and inclusive government.” – High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan, Perry Calderwood

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