Samantha is a 36-year-old dedicated advocate for people living with disabilities and their right to participate and be included in decision making processes affecting their lives. She is a resilient and spirited person, who not only fought her disabilities owing to Muscular Dystrophy but didn’t let it hamper her ambitions and dreams. Samantha has been a disability advocate for several years, working as a sign language interpreter and leading disability awareness sessions.
As an active and responsible citizen, Samantha exercised her rights of political participation by first registering as a voter using the Biometric Voter Registration System and then voting in the 2018 Harmonized Elections. Through her persona and advocacy efforts, she assisted in mobilising nearly 30,000 People Living with Disabilities (PWDs) to register for the 2018 electoral process. Her advocacy also led to the King George VI Rehabilitation Centre, where she is a senior team member, being designated as a Polling Station for Harmonized Elections.
According to Samantha, the 2018 election process was more inclusive than those in 2013.
“ There were significant improvements in accessibility for PWDs with use of the shorter polling booths and greater privacy for voters.”
She sees these improvements as the start of a long journey, as there are significant number of people with disabilities that are still not part of the electoral and democratic process as voters and candidates.
“Disability comes in different forms and people need to understand the finer details of it. We still need to prioritise disability awareness , sign language training, accessibility to election processes and capacity building of Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs)."
The post-election review process focused on learning from the experiences of PWDs and DPOs during the 2018 Harmonized Elections. Targeted consultations were held with DPOs and representatives such as Samantha to discuss participation PWDs in the electoral process; and the issues, challenges and constraints faced during the elections.
According to the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, about 7% of the Zimbabwean population are PWDs. Based on an estimated total population of 13 million, this translates to over 900,000 individuals, with at least 450,000 eligible voters. According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), only one out of every 15 registered to vote in the 2018 elections. Additional data is still to be analysed to determine how many actually voted. These statistics show that many PWDs remain disenfranchised in the electoral process.
The following recommendations were made from the post-election review process:
- ZEC should develop an electoral disability policy
- A disability desk/focal person should be established within the ZEC structures
- Capacity building to be facilitated for organisations representing disabled people’s interest
- Regular meetings between ZEC, National Disability Board and DPOs to review and improve the voting experience for the disabled
As defined in the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD), “disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with other” and it is the role of the society to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”.
It is within this context that the UNDP Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Capacity Building (ZIM – ECO) project, with support from the EU and the Government of Japan, developed, designed and implemented a nationwide voter registration and voter inspection campaign to mobilise citizens, particularly PWDs to participate in the different electoral processes. The DPO’s supported the design of materials and campaign implementation.