Mainstreaming the marginalised: Special seats for persons with disabilities demanded

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Staff Report
ISLAMABAD
A report titled “Bringing Disability in the Constitutional Net” has urged the government as well as political parties to pass a bylaw for the electoral rights of the people with disabilities (PWDs) including them in the national mainstream and provide them with a supportive environment to cast their votes.
It also asked relevant authorities to allocate special seats for PWDs in national, provincial and local government system, so as to enable political participation of PWDs, and explore possible ways this can be done.
The report launched by the Potohar Mental Health Association (PMHA), an organisation working for the well-being of the persons living with disabilities suggested that participation of persons living with disabilities (PWDs) in different spheres of life will significantly increase if they are brought in the national mainstream. A holistic law dealing with their welfare can be a great leap forward. The will to do so has to come from political parties, which are presently finalizing their manifestoes for the upcoming elections.
PPP’s Secretary General Farhatullah Babar said that one way in which the PWDs can be truly taken care of is by “mainstreaming” them. It is about taking steps that make them equal citizens of the country, a goal which is otherwise not realized due to exclusionary practices.
Sharing examples from his own stint as senator, Babar said that other marginalised groups such as tribal areas residents and transgender were brought in the mainstream by parties and parliament taking proper political and constitutional steps.
Exclusion of PWDs can also be overcome, he said, calling for passing a comprehensive law that covers welfare of the PWDs. The existing law is out-dated and deals only with employment of PWDs.
Terming political will as decisive factor, Babar disclosed that his party, Pakistan People’s Party, will take care of the PWDs in its manifesto, which is to be unveiled soon, and called upon other parties to do so.
Earlier, PMHA’s President Zulqurnain Asghar, sharing details of the report, lamented that the absence of any law means absence of any binding document to ensure that all rights of the PWDs, in specific, are upheld, and those violators are held accountable.
He also wondered as to how come the 2017 census showed a decline of PWD population, while population of the country in general has increased. Government data about PWDs is consistent, the report noted.
Assistant Director Legal at Baitul Maal Noreen Khan, touched upon the barriers from society towards the PWDs. The mind-set of people, she said, needs to be changed. Farhatullah Babar too called for empathy in reaching out to the PWDs. “The able-bodies”, he said, “should realize that physical disability can strike anyone with any time with any intensity.” If this is understood, there can be feelers of empathy, he said. Taking part in the discussion, Amjad Nazeer and Maliha Hussain, working with different nongovernment organizations, pointed the need for taking special measures to ensure that the vote of a PWD is registered without any hassle and that they are provided with infrastructure facilities at the polling stations.
Meanwhile, Oxfam representative gender justice programme manager Hadia Nusrat said that PWDs face numerous challenges and only through meaningful participation in the democratic process can they voice their concerns and ensure the safeguarding of their rights.
She also appreciated the role of a special cell in the Election Commission of Pakistan, which is taking care of the PWDs, and hoped that such effort will general more such awareness.

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