Persons with disability is the biggest group in the world. WHO report indicates that 15 % of the world’s population has a disability. Between 110 (2.2%) and 190 million (3.8%) persons with disabilities at age 15 or older have “significant difficulties in functioning. 80 % of them live in low income countries”.
In Afghanistan, NDSA (2005) reports shows that 2.7% of Afghan population is with severe difficulty in functioning who need immediate care, but inclusion of persons with less severe difficulty in function becomes 4.8% in the country. Men with disabilities are 59% and women with disabilities are 41%. Women with disabilities are facing double challenges: being a women and being with disabilities. The majority of persons with disabilities is in the 0 to 14 years group age. The proportion of persons with disabilities is high after the age of 45 and even higher after age 60; the probability of getting disabled is high: 15% of persons with disabilities are older than 60 years old.
All Afghan citizens have the right to participate in the elections according to Article 33 of the Constitution and Article 5 of the Election Law of Afghanistan . No discrimination is allowed against Afghan citizens because of ethnicity or other identity under the law, including disability.
Moreover, the government of Afghanistan has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2012, which obligates the government to promote and protect the political rights of persons with disabilities (Article 29 of CRPD). The government of Afghanistan must provide opportunities to persons with disabilities to participate in the political life, especially the elections. However, the election authorities have not been able to provide the necessary facilities for persons with disabilities to participate in the elections processes. They have had challenges and faced barriers.
ALSO, with technical and financial support of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted an observation on the Parliamentary Election of Afghanistan on 20 October 2018 in Kabul, Herat and Balk provinces and in Presidential Election on 28 September 2019 in seven provinces: Kabul, Balkh, Bamyan, Nangarhar, Parwan, Kandahar and Herat. The observation covered 90 polling stations in the above mentioned provinces by participation of 87 female and female observers with disabilities on the Election Day.
The objective the objective of the observation was to observe the access, participation, opportunities, and barriers of person with disabilities in election process. The findings summary of the report is provided below:
THE FINDINGS OF THE OBSERVATION REPORT
Participation of persons with disabilities in the parliamentary and presidential election
• In parliamentary election in 2018, 128 persons with disabilities voted in three provinces in parliamentary in Kabul, Herat and Balkh in 81 polling stations and 39% of them were women with disabilities.
• In presidential election in 2019, 190 persons with disabilities voted in the president election in 90 polling stations in seven province of Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Parwan and Herat and 33% of the voters were women with disabilities.
• In parliamentary election, 198 persons with disabilities (84 women and 114 men) – 43% of them was women with disabilities.
• Based on oral report by the staff of polling stations, in presidential election the participation of persons with disabilities were 252 (women 146 and women 106) – 42% was women with disabilities.
Type of disabilities of voters with disabilities
• 84% of the voters were persons with physical disabilities as majority and 26% of them were women with physical disabilities;
• 10% of the voters reported being persons with visual disabilities and 70% of them was women with visual disabilities as a second category; and
• The third category was with auditory disabilities 2%, but all them were men with auditory disabilities.
Location of the polling stations
• At 52% of the polling stations ramps were not available for person with disabilities.
• 70% of the polling station entrance or doors had steps, which create barriers;
• 60% of the polling stations were not the ground floor; they were on the second floor or basement, no alternative facilities as mobile ramps were available for persons with disabilities.
Facilities at the polling stations for persons with disabilities
• At 33% of the polling stations, person with disabilities received assistance;
• At 84% polling station priority was given to persons with disabilities to vote;
• At 36% polling station the pathways were not free of barriers, which creates problem for voters with disabilities using wheelchairs.
• At 44% of the polling stations, space was for wheelchair-users to move ballot boxes.
• At 70% of the polling enters, the gates were accessible for persons with disabilities, but barriers mostly at the doors of the polling stations in the polling centers.
• 76% of the polling centers and stations did not have standard toilets, especially for the wheelchair-users;
• At 51% of the polling stations seats were not available for persons with disabilities to rest while standing in line to vote.
• 87% of the voters with disabilities did not have any problem with biometric system; and
• 59 % of the voters said that the picture of the candidates was not easy for them to recognize on the ballot papers.
Challenges of voters with disabilities at the polling station on the Election Day
ALSO conducted focus group discuss after the parliamentary election with 70 persons with disabilities after the parliamentary election in 2018. More than 90 of them were persons with physical disabilities.
• 65% of the voters with physical disabilities voted in parliamentary election but 35% of them did not vote. The main reasons were distance of polling station from home to polling stations, lack of family support and lack of voting cards and security.
• 61% of the voters’ disabilities were not registered by IEC in the process of the election.
• 75% of the interviewees did not participated in any awareness sessions;
• 39% of the voters with disabilities did not know to choose an assistant for voting
ALSO conducted focus groups with 13 persons with auditory and visual disabilities after the presidential election about the challenges and barriers in the election
Persons with auditory disabilities:
• 71% of voters with auditory disability had problem in recognize the picture of the candidates;
• 81% of voters with auditory disabilities did not receive awareness about the candidates;
• 71% of voters with auditory disabilities did not have awareness about choosing assistance;
• 86% of the voters’ disabilities were not registered by IEC in the election process; and
• 43% of voters with auditory experienced influence by staff of the polling station in voting on the Election Day
Persons with visual disabilities:
• 67% of voters did not receive awareness from media about the election;
• 67% of them had difficulty in recognize the picture of the candidates;
• 50% of them had difficulty in marking the ballots;
• 33% felt pressure to influence their voting by the staff of the polling stations;
• 33% of them said that they did not about their rights to choose assistant; and
• 92% of voters with visual disabilities’ were not registered.
Employment of persons with disabilities at polling stations, IEC and IECC
• At 27% of the polling stations person with disabilities were hired on the election;
• 17 persons with disabilities hired in information center in Kabul:
o 1 person in public awareness center
o 1 person as legal advisor in IECC
Considering the findings of this report, the following recommendations are suggested to IEC and other related stakeholders on inclusion of persons with disabilities in election process in Afghanistan. It is expect that the election authorities should consider the recommendations in their policies, procedures and operations to promote disability inclusion in the process.
1. IEC should increase and provide public awareness on accessible election and participation for persons with disabilities in election process. IEC should implement targeted awareness for persons with disabilities to inform them of their political rights and mainstream disability rights into IEC’s awareness programs.
2. IEC has to develop and disseminate voter education materials in multiple, accessible formats, including print, electronic, radio, and video, easy-to-read for persons with different type of disabilities on the election process all over the country.
3. IEC should set the polling stations on the ground floor, consider accessibility of the toilets for persons with disabilities and distance of the polling centers to which persons with disabilities could come for voting and registration. The location of polling centers at schools, mosques and universities should be selected based on a minimum requirement in terms of disability accessibility.
4. IEC should provide alternative accessibility facilities at the polling centers and stations where the pathways, gates or doors are not accessible for persons with disabilities.
5. IEC should procure and improve the quality of assistive devices to support voters with disabilities in exercising their political rights on the Election Day. The assistive tools and devices are tactile ballot guide, large grip pen, magnifying glasses for low vision, guidance in large font for voters with auditory disabilities, mobile ramps for gates and doors, a wheelchair for carrying persons with disabilities and old people at the polling centers.
6. IEC has to register the disability of voters before and on the Election Day; it will help the election authorities to know the type of disability and their needs in election process to respond appropriately. For accessibility criteria, the IEC should use the universal design concepts to ensure that all persons with disabilities have access to the electoral process.
7. IEC and IECC have to hire more persons with disabilities, including women with disabilities at decision and operation levels. Persons with disabilities can help IEC in inclusion of persons with disabilities in the election process
8. Observer organizations of election process should include disability in their observation program.
9. IEC should provide awareness session for its staff at different levels to educate them on best practices to strengthen disability inclusion in the election processes.
10. Media should include disability matters in their awareness on political and social participation of persons with disabilities, especially in election process.
11. The Election Law and procedures of election process should be amended to accommodate accessibility and facilities requirements for persons with disabilities in election process.
12. Local authorities should support participation of persons with disability in election process