News and Updates

Young Bougainvilleans with Disabilities Empowered to Engage in Referendum Process


On August 12-15, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) implemented its Engaging a New Generation for Accessible Governance and Elections (ENGAGE) political leadership curriculum with young persons with disabilities in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB), Papua New Guinea (PNG). The curriculum, which was tailored to the Bougainville context, built participants’ skills to take part in the upcoming referendum for independence currently scheduled for November 2019. IFES Inclusion Specialist Rebecca Aaberg and IFES Youth Technical Coordinator Ashley Law co-led the training with IFES PNG Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Officer Aileen Sagolo. Guest facilitator George Kenatsi from the Office of the Bougainville Election Commissioner contributed to the training, teaching participants about the electoral cycle and ways to participate in electoral events.


Deaf youth identify their rights and responsibilities on maps of their communities during the August 2019 ENGAGE training in Buka, ARoB.

The ENGAGE training included diverse participants with disabilities from North, Central and South Bougainville. Bougainvilleans with disabilities encounter intense stigma and discrimination, as well as environmental barriers such as inaccessible infrastructure, that prohibit them from participating in public life. Because of the history of conflict in Bougainville, it is likely that many residents have acquired disabilities, though there is no official count of Bougainvilleans with disabilities. Additionally, international human rights standards such as the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by PNG in 2013, and UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth participation in peacebuilding processes are not widely known to Bougainvilleans. This year, the island, of which 60 percent of the population are youth, will participate in a referendum on independence.

“[After this training,] I intend to become polling officer during election period.” – Young woman with a visual disability who participated in the ENGAGE training

Because of their age* and disability, young Bougainvilleans with disabilities face additional barriers to participating in political life and have few opportunities to serve as leaders in their communities. The ENGAGE training, which focused on the knowledge and technical capacity of youth with disabilities in Bougainville, empowered participants to engage in the upcoming referendum as voters, poll workers and other leaders. Lessons on building confidence and networking complemented technical exercises on electoral participation.

Follow @IFESYouth and @IFESDisability and use the hashtag #EmpoweredToENGAGE to find tweets related to the ENGAGE training.

Today at ENGAGE-Bougainville, we practiced voting and learned about temporary election worker roles in an election simulation! #EmpoweredToEngage #Youth4Democracy @IFESYouth @IFESAsiaPacific

— IFES Disability (@IFESDisability) August 15, 2019

IFES’ activities in Papua New Guinea are funded by the United States Agency for International Development in partnership with the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Government of Papua New Guinea.

*The Bougainville Youth Policy 2012-17 defines youth as 15 to 35.