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28 June 2018

Participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life

By Anderson Gitonga – Chief Executive officer – United Disabled Persons of Kenya (Speaker – Round Table 3 – Participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life.)

The Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP) held its 11th session from 12th to 14th June 2018 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The sessions were convened under the overarching theme: “Leaving no one behind through the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

Important to note is that since the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), persons with disabilities and their representative organizations are involved and consulted in the planning and in the formal  proceedings of the Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the CRPD. Persons with disabilities were engaged as panelist and co-chairs on all round tables as well as key speakers in the opening and closing sessions.

United Disabled persons of Kenya is the umbrella federation of organizations of persons with disabilities in Kenya. It is a civil society organization and has, since 1989 worked to enhance full participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in all spheres of life including political, social and economic aspects. Such interventions have aimed at ensuring inclusive policy formulation and implementation as well as monitoring the implementation of UNCRPD. Currently, UDPK and partners Light for the World (LFTW) and the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA) are implementing a project that aims at enhancing mainstreaming issues of women and girls with disabilities in development at national and county levels and that women with disabilities participate meaningfully in the various governance processes.

Why do we need to participate?

Kenya, just like many other countries, politics is about power which in turn influences allocation of resources and services at both national and county/local level. Kenya has a decentralized system of government with national and 47 county governments with outlined functions and mandate.  One of the key reasons why the country chose this form of governance is that marginalized communities (including persons with disabilities) felt that they continued to be excluded under the system of the central government.

The Kenyan constitution envisioned representation of persons with disabilities in all these levels of governance processes so that they can exercise their right to representation.

Existence of legal frameworks to promote participation

Article 54 of the Kenya Constitution states that persons with disabilities must be treated with dignity (though we witness immense stereotyping and demeaning of persons with disabilities within the community, amongst decision and policy makers).

Additionally, there exists a conflict in the law. Certain laws deny the recognition and exercise of legal capacity on an equal basis with others. For instance, Article 83. (1) of the Kenya Constitution states that  “A person qualifies for registration as a voter at elections or referenda if the person—(b) is not declared to be of unsound mind.”

This raises the question: What is the interface between mental illness, intellectual disability and being of unsound mind? Should persons with mental illness or intellectual disability be disenfranchised? Indeed, in the last election, we have reported cases where a polling officer, on the day of election, prevented persons with disabilities from voting alleging that they are of “unsound mind”.

Good practices

The work by the Elections Management Bodies to design accessible Voter Education materials and in using accessible modes of communication through partnerships with DPOs representing the diversities in disability – women, youth, type of disability, literacy levels etc.

There also was an increase in provision of aspects of reasonable accommodation like sign language interpretations in TV communications, during public rallies, ramps and booths accessible to wheelchairs users, E-media adverts have sign language interpretation inserts or legible subtitles. Regulations were also developed that promote new concepts of inclusion such as assisted voting for persons with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities.

There were deliberate measures to portray persons with disabilities as active participants in electioneering processes by for example ensuring materials with displays (e.g. drawings, pictures) reflected positively on persons with disabilities.

Again, for the first time we had an increased number (over 20) of persons with disabilities running for competitive political positions. In some conservative communities we had someone who is blind elected, another person with albinism and a woman who is a wheelchair user and another using crutches were elected for various positions. This is a clear measure of change of attitude in the community.

Going forward

There is need to repeal laws that are discriminatory and that continue to deny the right to legal capacity and recognize that when one is denied reasonable accommodation, then, that is a form of discrimination. There is also need to formulate guidelines and create public awareness on supported decision making mechanisms for persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.

Stringent measures need also to be put in place to curb politically instigated violence which has contributed to lack of interest in politics by persons with disabilities.

Further, there is need to provide the necessary funding to organizations of persons with psychosocial disabilities and other relevant partners to implement the paradigm shift on supported decision making in addition to creating awareness on the right to legal capacity for persons with psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities.


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