ISLAMABAD: A unique coalition of transgender and disabled persons and women’s rights activists has been launched to take part in the upcoming electoral process and exercise their right to vote independently, in secret and with dignity.
The coalition of 30 transgender and disabled persons and women’s rights activists, titled Coalition for Inclusive Pakistan (CIP), was launched in Islamabad on Sunday with the support of the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability, which also supports Free and Fair Election Network programmatically and financially, and has the representation of the marginalised persons from all over the country, said a press release.
The purpose of forming such an alliance was in line with the provisions of the Elections Act 2017 that contain certain positive aspects to facilitate participation of transgender and disabled persons and women in the electoral process.
Taking part in the launching event, the participants urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure that the new election law was implemented in letter and spirit. They also praised the work being done by the Gender and Disability Electoral Working Group of the ECP and said the CIP would closely work with it for the achievement of their electoral rights.
Qamar Naseem, the programme coordinator of Blue Veins, an organisation working for the rights of transgenders, said the barriers that hindered the participation of the transgender people, the disabled and women in electoral process and restrict their ability to exercise their right to vote were actually the barriers that hindered their participation in mainstream life.
These barriers put curbs on their ability to exercise their other basic rights and in the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms. He said the ECP should make arrangements so that transgender voters were able to cast their vote independently and with dignity on an equal basis with others and should train the polling staff in this regard.
Jawaid Rais, the president of the Disabled Welfare Association, said it was a welcome development that Section 93 facilitated voters with disabilities to cast their votes through postal ballots. However, it should be noted that the option of postal ballots supplements and does not supplant the right to vote of the disabled voters in public.
Therefore, the ECP should develop criteria for the selection of polling stations and such a criterion should give preference to polling stations that have greater accessibility for wheelchair users. He said the ECP should develop a mechanism to ensure that inaccessible polling stations are not included in the polling scheme.
Mr Rais also urged the ECP to ensure that its public service messages on voter education in the lead-up to the general elections were delivered in sign language as well so that these messages were accessible to speech and hearing-impaired voters.
Similarly, he said, the ECP should create awareness and train polling staff about the right of the blind and visually impaired voters to cast their vote independently, in secret and with dignity with the help of a companion or the polling staff.
Gulalai Ismail, the executive director of the Aware Girls, said at present Section 12c required the ECP to conduct public awareness programmes and media campaigns regarding the importance of maximum voter enrollment and participation in election of women.
She demanded that transgender persons and people with disabilities along with women be included in such programmes and campaigns through progressive interpretation of Section 12c.