The Elections Conflict Prevention and Mediation Engagement (ECPMG) has on Thursday 2nd February 2023 held an open discussion with persons with disabilities in the Western Area to hear their concerns ahead of June 24 multi-tier elections.
Opening the session, Team Lead and Executive director of CHRDI, Abdul Fatoma said persons with disabilities are very important in national building and must be involved in discussions on national issues.
He assured them that their concerns will be communicated to the appropriate authorities and will later get the politicians to have a one on one engagement with persons with disabilities to tell of their plans for them.
He explained that ECPMG is a body comprising eminent peace mediators, the Inter-Religious Council, CHRDI, and the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone.
Abdul Fatoma noted that The program targets market women, persons living with disabilities, Political parties, and Electoral Management Bodies (EMBS).
Steering the discussion, Head of Eminent Women for Peace, Haja Mariama Fofanah admonished the disabled to value themselves and not allow politicians to buy them.
she urged the disabled to think wisely and vote wisely, adding that they must choose to vote for someone who will be able to prioritize and take care of their needs and concerns. She also urged them to avoid violence as with violence disables are the one who suffers the most.
Expressing their concerns, disables from different organizations raised different concerns with the most notable concern centered around the safety of disables during the elections period.
The disables also speak on the need to empower persons with disabilities and disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) through training on technical elections issues as well as organizational and advocacy skills.
They added that they need support from government institutions such as election management bodies and legislatures to create inclusive and accessible legal and regulatory frameworks.
The open discussion allows the disabled to express that people with disabilities in Sierra Leone are most time treated as second-class citizens (“third-class”, to use their exact terminology).
They spoke repeatedly of being marginalized and stigmatized and sometimes even getting turned away from registration sites and polling places regarded as not being capable of voting.
They also discussed their physical inability to access registration and polling sites and, when they could, having to stand for hours waiting to vote only to leave before casting a ballot due to fatigue.
Several disabled groups had little faith in politicians and viewed Politicians as people who are only interested in them during the Elections period and not interested in their needs.
One frequent complaint heard was aimed at their fellow able-bodied citizens, who regularly discriminate and treat disabled citizens with disrespect.
At the same time, most were very grateful that a representative of the ECSL participated in the discussion as complaints were raised about the treatment they sometimes received from the staff of ECSL during the Elections period.
They were also pleased with the fact that ECPMG has prioritized the needs and concerns of the disabled.
Mrs. Christiana O’Reilly, Director of the Elections Inclusion Department ECSL thanked ECPMG for incorporating the disabled into their activity adding that their concerns are very important and the Election Inclusion department is there to advocate and ensure the participation of the disabled in elections with little or no difficulty.
She furthered that election should be violence-free and inclusive of everyone, citing that the ECSL is one of the first institutions that has been advocating by ensuring that persons with disabilities participate not just as voters but also as employees.
“As disability is not inability, disabled should apply themselves in ensuring they participate fully in elections even as candidates,” she stressed
She noted that their concerns are in place and the ECSL is already working on addressing most of these concerns especially the area of accessibility to polling stations.
The program climaxed with a group photo by ECPMG and the different disabled groups.