Sunset shot with a palm tree and hammock in the foreground

Dispatch from the United Nations Development Programme in Fiji: Shaza Ahmed’s second blog from the field

Photo credit: Shaza Ahmed

By Shaza Ahmed, MAGG

I have been asked to attend as a rapporteur to a three-day workshop on the Coral Coast along the southern shores of the main island of Viti Levu. I have been to the Coral Coast before, it is a little slice of paradise just outside the capital Suva. However, this time I will be attending in a professional capacity instead of a budget beach getaway.

The workshop will discuss increasing women’s representation in parliament and the voting rights for persons living with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. The latter topic is my pet project while working here. For this project, I have been conducting a literature review for a theoretical and comparative foundation on why this marginalized and invisible group should be able to vote. I have been compiling a chart with the relevant legislation including constitutional rights, electoral rights, and disability rights in the 10 countries under the Pacific Office’s purview. I will be designing a street survey to get an idea of where public perception lies on the topic. I have been in meetings with civil society organizations that advocate for the voting rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities and trying to meet with self-advocates. Later in April, I will be facilitating a working group with all these groups and advocates in attendance to learn more about what they want in terms of political participation, what barriers this group faces in the Pacific context, and what are potential next steps.

Voting rights for persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities is important for the following reasons among others:

First, the principle of non-discrimination in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that individuals with disabilities should be able to participate in political and public life including the right to vote and be elected, same as others. When we deny individuals with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities these rights, we are discriminating under the perception that they are incapable of understanding or voting or running for government. However, this logic presumes that individuals living without intellectual and psychosocial disabilities always make informed and well thought out decisions when it comes to voting or political participation. Knowing that is not true and many voting decisions are based on heuristics, this same right should be afforded to persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities as well to not discriminate. Otherwise, testing capacity of sound mind should be extended to everyone and not just those with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities as that is discriminatory too.

Second, this group is disproportionately affected by policies, especially ones that leave them out or forget how they may be impacted. Their voice must be heard twice as loudly as the average individual to ensure that policies are equitable.

Third, most people who are opposed to the voting rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities deny them the vote on the grounds they may be manipulated or influenced. To prevent this from happening, governments must legislate safeguards or protection mechanisms for a vulnerable population, not disenfranchise and neglect their voice.

Thank you for reading the second part of my blog. In my last blog, I hope to revert on my experience at the three-day workshop and the expected success, fingers crossed, of my working group.

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