Sashi Babu Paudel is a 41-year-old person with an intellectual disability from Nepal who stood as a candidate for the provincial assembly in 2017. His party helped him develop his election manifesto, pamphlets, and leaflets for the election.
Unfortunately, Sashi was not elected but he hopes his candidacy will serve as an example that persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities can indeed run for public office.
The political inclusion of all people living with physical, psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, both visible and invisible, is imperative for a thriving, vibrant democracy. The rights of every person to equal participation in political affairs, to vote and to be elected, is a human right and a fundamental democratic principle. Indeed, to realize the commitments of the 2030 Agenda – and its core pledge to leave no one behind – it is essential that all people, particularly those facing discrimination and exclusion, have access and voice and participate equally in every aspect of political life. In this way, strengthening the participation of people with disabilities in decision-making processes can have a broader democratic dividend.
Yet, persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities are often excluded from political processes. They experience multiple legal, institutional, and social barriers, which prevent them from voting, standing for election for public office, civic participation, or simply having a say in their own lives. These barriers also emerge from inadequate access to basic rights such as social protection, health, education, jobs, and physical accessibility which hinder their ability to participate in political activities. Several countries maintain a legislative ‘unsound mind’ provision that is used as a justification for disenfranchising them.
On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December, UNDP, and Inclusion International and the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi Partner Trust Fund (UNPRPD MPTF) are launching a new publication on strengthening the political participation of persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities. Together with our partners, UNDP will use this guide to contribute to a change in both practices and perceptions in the political participation of persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.
Equal participation is a key to strong democracies and there are many reasons why persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities should be supported to exercise their political rights.
Persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities can make their own choices and they do so every day. People make choices all the time—some good, some bad. The only difference is that persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, unlike other members of society, are often asked to justify their choices and are questioned about their knowledge and the basis for their decisions. But there is no reason for this dual standard. They should have the right to vote and run for office, just like everyone else. There should be no higher standards demanded from them. This is not only the correct approach, it is also a right protected by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Persons with disabilities, like any other citizens, have interests that extend beyond their own personal circumstances. They too have opinions on issues such as the environment, education, climate justice, refugees, or the economy.
Governments, election management bodies, parliaments, judiciaries, national human rights institutions, and civil society have a responsibility to ensure that people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities are provided with information and support to enable them to exercise their rights as voters and as candidates. UNDP is here to support societies on this journey. In Sierra Leone UNDP supports the election commission in holding elections that are not only technically sound and sustainable, but that are also inclusive, in particular, of women and of persons with disabilities. In Moldova, UNDP also supported a civic campaign to inform persons with hearing, intellectual or psychosocial disabilities about their electoral rights. Other examples include UNDP’s support for electoral institutions and processes in Zambia and Suriname to ensure the equitable and effective participation of persons with disabilities.
So, on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, our goal is clear; a world in which all persons can exercise their right to equal participation in decision-making. This will only be achieved through active consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations based on a principle of “Nothing about us without us”. They know best the barriers that they face and the impact that such barriers have on their lives.
We are here to help societies and their political systems become more inclusive. Only by working together—self-advocates, governments, election management bodies, UN entities, civil society, and communities of experts—can we effectively tackle the obstacles, the injustices, and the discrimination that persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities experience in the political arena.
At UNDP, we firmly believe that to get to that goal, the issue of disabilities needs to be understood as a multi-dimensional development and human rights issue. This will require changing both mindsets and laws which, we are well aware, will not be an easy task. We hope that our new publication can help to support the inclusive political processes that are so urgently needed.
UNDP, in partnership with Inclusion International and with funding from the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi Partner Trust Fund (UNPRPD MPTF), have developed a new practical guidance for election stakeholders in planning and implementing elections that are more inclusive of persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.