Intersectionality and Article 29 Panel at the United Nations Headquarters
On June 13, 2018, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) co-hosted a side event at the Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), along with the United Nations Development Programme and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). Speakers included Sylvana Lakkis, president of the Lebanese Union of People with Disabilities (LUPD); Yulia Sachuk, coordinator at Fight for Right Ukraine; Jawairia Jilani, head of the Democracy Program for DFID Pakistan; Muhammad Atif Sheikh, executive director of the Special Talent and Exchange Program; and Nighat Siddique, additional director-general for the Gender Affairs Wing at the Election Commission of Pakistan. IFES Inclusion Advisor Virginia Atkinson served as chair. The group discussed CRPD Article 29, which guarantees the right of all persons with disabilities to equal access to participate in political and public life. Each panelist highlighted opportunities for greater inclusion of different populations of persons with disabilities, including women, youth, religious minorities and LGBTI persons. Persons with disabilities who are members of other marginalized groups experience systematic discrimination and in some cases, physical or psychological violence that undermines their political rights and participation in public life. People who identify with more than one minority group can serve as important leaders connecting siloed communities and integrating movements.
In her opening remarks, Atkinson discussed the IFES Intersectionality Assessment Framework, a new tool that allows people with multiple social identities to share ways they participate civically and politically. In the Dominican Republic, research revealed that while young people without disabilities experience nepotism and clientelism as key barriers to political processes, youth with disabilities experience numerous obstacles before encountering nepotism as a barrier to participation, such as lack of education about the political process and assumptions from their families and communities that they are not interested in participating in politics. In Armenia, a group of 22 disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) and 37 civil society groups formed the Coalition for Inclusive Legal Reform, speaking as one voice to the government. After years of delay, the national disability rights law is now being addressed in Parliament because of the coalition’s joint advocacy.
Lakkis served as an election commissioner in Lebanon, representing all civil society, including the disability community. She noted that the Lebanese 2000 Disability Law is not effectively implemented or enforced. LUPD formed a coalition to increase voting and independence for women, youth and elderly populations, emphasizing participation across multiple sectors of civil society. Lakkis stressed that policies must be designed to address the diversity of all needs, allowing groups to work together and on an equal basis. Human rights are universal, and societies need to think and act inclusively.
"There are more than 20 million people with disabilities in Ukraine. More than half are young people. Our voice should be equally important with the same value in democratic societies. The right to elect and stand for election and participate in public life.” – Yulia Sachuk, Fight for Right Ukraine coordinator
Sachuk shared that legislation in Ukraine also fails to address disability inclusion, preventing youth with disabilities from participating in decision-making processes. Fight for Right Ukraine organized dialogue sessions on voting rights among youth with disabilities and state authorities. Using the forum-theater method, Fight for Right developed a play about key violations of voting rights. They used the performance to build relationships among young voters with disabilities and government officials. Fight for Right also empowered youth representatives to make recommendations to the state, asking for election laws that comply with the CRPD, reasonable accommodations and awareness campaigns to change society’s mindset toward disability.
A case study from Pakistan shared by Jilani, Sheikh, and Siddique demonstrated good practices for increasing inclusion from three different perspectives: a donor, a DPO and an election management body. DFID described their strong partnership with Pakistani stakeholders and focus on prioritizing individuals who face multiple levels of exclusion, such as women with disabilities and trans women. Sheikh focused on DPO efforts to increase inclusive data collection to empower civil society to make the electoral process accessible; for the first time, male and female candidates with disabilities will contest the July 2019 elections. Siddique highlighted the innovative Gender and Disability Elections Working Group, which works at the national and grassroots level to increase access to the political process. The group meets monthly and has members from government and civil society, including groups representing women and the transgender and disability communities. The 2017 Election Act, which mandates an allocation of seats for female and transgender candidates, was noted as an example of inclusive legislation. During the last election, the working group provided gender and disability trainings for eight million polling staff at 85,000 polling stations. Siddique also highlighted accessible methods to disseminate information, such as street theaters and school visits. This case study demonstrated how democracy and governance programming that is deliberately intersectional can have increased impact.