On 24 August 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), launched a new National Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral and political process ahead of Sierra Leone’s 2018 elections.
Globally, approximately 15 per cent of the population have a disability, 80 per cent of whom live in developing countries. With a history of civil war and low ranking in the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI), the number of people with disabilities in Sierra Leone is likely to be much higher. They are often the poorest in their community and are rarely empowered to participate politically; Sierra Leone is no exception.
WFD is working with SLUDI and the disability community to ensure that the country’s March 2018 elections are inclusive and respond to the needs of PWDs.
Key to our work is the launch of the PWD Agenda which will serve:
- As an advocacy tool for the disability community and disability groups in Sierra Leone. Helping them to advocate for the integration of key public policy priorities in the manifestos of political parties;
- As a guide for key organisations interested in engaging PWDs and other institutions on PWD-related priorities for the upcoming elections;
- As a national advocacy document that will guide Elections Management Bodies (EMBs), political parties and the next Government on the planning, budgeting and implementation of PWD interventions.
The PWD Agenda is centred on six pro-disability public policy priorities identified by the disability community following inclusive nationwide stakeholder consultations with nearly 1400 persons with disabilities across Sierra Leone’s 14 administrative districts. Seven political parties, four State Commissions, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Sports, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the media and other pro-disability organisations also contributed to the development of the agenda.
Public policy priorities:
- Enhance the inclusion and participation of PWDS in the political process in Sierra Leone
- Ensure physical accessibility of public buildings, infrastructure and transportation for PWDs
- Support the collection of accurate data on PWDs in Sierra Leone for better planning
- Improve access to inclusive education
- Enhance PWDs access to health care with additional investment and monitoring
- Enhance the employment and socio-economic empowerment of PWDs
The National Electoral Commission (NEC) and Political Party Registration Commission (PPRC) also have a role to play in creating an inclusive space for the disabled community to participate in the electoral process. The national agenda calls on them to strengthen their support systems for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
‘Our survey shows it is only by acknowledging the existence and the needs of people with disabilities that Sierra Leone can build a truly inclusive and fair society.’
George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Africa
Investing in disability support will require steadfast commitment if Sierra Leone is to fully align itself with national legislation and Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which states: ‘States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others.’ If PWDs do not have a meaningful voice, choice or control in the decisions affecting their lives, there can be no true democracy.
Launching the PWD Agenda in Freetown, Zainab Kamara from Empowerment of Women’s Social Inclusion, said:
‘We call for a new and inclusive approach that will guarantee Sierra Leoneans with disabilities are part of the long term strategic vision of political parties. We thank WFD, the Standing Together for Democracy Consortium and UKaid Sierra Leone for their ongoing support to ensure as many of us as possible can take part in the March 2018 elections.’
Santigie Kargbo, President of SLUDI, added:
‘Today, 24 of August 2017, we, the disabled community, demand our political parties and new government to integrate the following asks in their manifestoes and for the new Government to deliver on them.’
WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath explained:
‘It is the first time such a broad coalition of people with disabilities, their friends and champions come together in such a significant way to request the attention of Sierra Leone’s political actors.’
‘Our survey shows it is only by acknowledging the existence and the needs of people with disabilities that Sierra Leone can build a truly inclusive and fair society. Our hope is this issue will feature prominently in the upcoming election campaign.’
WFD is implementing this work as a member of the ‘Standing Together for Democracy Consortium;’ a coalition of CSOs funded by UKaid through the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in support of the 2017/18 electoral cycle in Sierra Leone. The coalition aims to create the right conditions for free, fair and peaceful elections in Sierra Leone. Led by Search for Common Ground (SFCG), the consortium is made up of five national organisations – National Elections Watch (NEW), Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Independent Radio Network (IRN), Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) and 50/50 Group – and two international organisations – SFCG and WFD.
This programme forms part of WFD’s work in Sierra Leone.
(Photo: Performance of the PWD agenda song at the launch in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Several key stakeholders including CSOs and Politicians were present at the ceremony.)