Mainstreaming Disability Rights. By Shazia George


Disability is the result of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, intellectual, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these. In other words, permanent impairment is called disability, which cannot be cured with any medicine. The disability can occur at any age either at the time of birth or during a lifetime. Disability could be prevented especially in the newborn, if the pregnant woman is counseled regarding dos and don’ts. The main causes of disability include; smoking, unnecessary medication, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, lack of exercise, heart disease, diabetes.
What is the ratio of disability in Pakistan?
The persons with disabilities (PWDs) are mostly unseen, unheard and uncounted persons, and they are one of the most neglected marginalized group. They face a multitude of social, economic, physical and political barriers hampering their mainstreaming in society, because a lot of People are often unaware of the huge digit of over one billion persons living with disabilities or approximately 15 % population of the world and the challenges they face.
The main problem behind their vulnerability in Pakistan is the unavailability of reliable data and study on persons with disabilities, as the successive governments of Pakistan did not conduct National Census after 1998. The government has reserved 2% quota for them in employment and education according to the 2.5% ratio of disability community in census 1998. But now the figure of disability swells to over 10% of the total population of Pakistan in 2014, claimed by the World Health Organization, witnessing increase in ratio of disability on daily basis in Pakistan due to polio, cousin marriages, terrorism activities, road accidents, natural disasters and violence on pregnant women. But the reserved quota for disability community is still 2% despite their 10% share in population, which is purely injustice.
What are the accessibility issues of the Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan?
The modern concept of disability claims that real disability exists in ways of thinking and behaviors, in infrastructure and in society created by human beings, not within a person with impairment, resultantly people with disabilities face troubles for the execution of tasks in daily routine due to the inaccessible buildings and transportation in Pakistan.
Accessibility is the solution for the inclusion of persons with disabilities, but inaccessible infrastructure to access public buildings, transportation & technology is a big hurdle to their integration in Pakistan.
For instance, the government has announced 50% concession in the travel by train for them, but nobody ever bothered about their accessibility to avail such benefits, as there are three steps (3 feet high from the platform to train door) to board the train. Even, it is impossible for persons with disabilities to board the train lying at another platform other than the main platform, due to the plenty of up and down steps and unavailability of lift, slops or any alternative accessible way.
Describe the overall situation of persons with disabilities (PWDs), especially Women with Disabilities (WWD) in Pakistan?
Women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk to violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation. They suffer on two accounts: disability and social stigma based on gender discrimination, and if a woman with disability belongs to any religious minority, then she has to face multiple kind of discrimination.
Resultantly, many women and young girls are being denied of their fundamental rights despite the fact that there is a need to take special measures to guarantee them the right to exercise and enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms. As we are living in a male dominant society, where women are neglected and never included in decision making, even if the decision is related to their life. But the story of women with disabilities is totally different, they are not considered human beings; they never enjoy their basic rights, like food, education, skill development, employment, healthcare, recreation and right to marriage etc. Sometimes their family members consider that they are not able to get married, cannot produce children, cannot manage their home, or they are asexual.
If a woman with disability gets married due to their family relations and money; the greed will be there behind the marriage. Soon they start facing discrimination from her in-laws and her husband also. At last, the women remain alone and bear the expenses of their family in most of the cases. But on the other side, the men with disabilities are totally facilitated by the family and the family supports his children to advance their generation. Women with disabilities are less likely to obtain service support than men with disability. Even, parents are generally more willing to get the disability of their boy children treated at an early stage. But this is not the case with girls who are usually neglected and later develop permanent disabilities. This is the reason why there are more disabled women than men in the country.
Usually, society sees women with disabilities as a curse on the family, and considers social as well as economic burden for their families. Mostly, physically challenged women are treated like children and assigned no responsibility. But irony is that whenever all family members have to attend any social event, many times the women with disabilities remain at home alone for the security of the home and do the domestic chores in their routine life. A hidden evil exists in our society, by which many people become familiar, but do not notice such kind of evils that is called the forced sterilization; the women with severe disabilities face it. They are usually forced by the family not to discuss this issue with anyone.
How the legal framework protects people with disabilities (PWDs) in Pakistan?
The year 1981 was proclaimed the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP) by the United Nations (UN). It called for a plan of action with an emphasis on equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities. The IYDP emphasize on the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development.
In the response to the proclamation of International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP) by the United Nations, a primary legislation entitled "Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981" was promulgated in Pakistan. According to the ordinance, one percent (1%) quota was reserved in jobs and education for then 1.5% population of people with disabilities, which was later enhanced to two percent (2%) on 15th October 1998 through a special directive issued by the Prime Minister to employ then 2.5% population of persons with disabilities in the public and private sector.
The existing disability legislation in Pakistan is not gender sensitized. It is not a proper legislation to tackle the problems and needs of the PWDs, and does not contain an effective mechanism for its implementation due to number of lacunas in it. There is no any provision in the document for women with disabilities to perform leadership role at the state level. Moreover, despite the existence of such legislation, the efforts to rehabilitate and employ PWDs have not been very efficacious. What is more alarming is the handful of cases under this legislation, indicating the lack of awareness amongst the persons with disabilities and the lack of implementation of this law in our country. Thus, unfortunately persons with disabilities are deprived of their right to two percent (2%) reserved seats in Federal Departments as well as in Provinces. Even the non-disabled persons are appointed on seats reserved for disabled persons only.
In 2002, the government of Pakistan introduced the “National policy for persons with disabilities” to strictly enforce the existing disability legislation formulated in 1981, and ensure the involvement of disability community in planning and implementation of programs for PWDs. The overall vision of the first ever national policy was to make certain that they have equal opportunities and access to medical, education, social, psychological, vocational training, employment and rehabilitation, and they are empowered for the full realization of the potential through their inclusive mainstreaming in all spheres of life including; social, economic and political, for fulfillment of their present as well as future requirements.
In 2006, the government of Pakistan developed a “National Plan of Action (NPA) for persons with disabilities” through consultative process among key stakeholders to translate the National policy for persons with disabilities into practice by ensuring access, inclusion and equalization of opportunities for PWDs. The plan was more focused for actions to be taken in next five years till 2011, and for making recommendations up to 2025. Major thrust areas of NPA include early intervention, assessment and medical treatment, inclusive education and training, employment and rehabilitation, research and development, advocacy and mass awareness, sports and recreation, barrier free physical environment, strengthening of institutional mechanisms, and adequate funding.
Though the national policy and national plan of action were a good initiative on the part of the government to empower persons with disabilities and include them in society, but no adequate enforcement was seen on the part of the relevant ministries. Most of the steps remained in the papers, and limited number of measures taken by the authorities did not meet the needs of the persons with disabilities due to not having comprehensive legislative cover upon the policies and planning.
The state of Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in July 2011, which was adopted by the general assembly of the United Nations in 2006, and came into force in May 2008 to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people with disabilities with their inherent dignity. Now the Pakistan is legally bound to undertake actions to break down barriers hindering their integration, create society valuing non-discrimination, diversity and inclusion, and facilitate PWDs to live to their full capacity, through enactment of appropriate policies and legislation.
Unfortunately, the government has not introduced any improved and comprehensive disability legislation in the parliament during the past thirty-three years since the existing ordinance was passed in 1981, and also failed to promote rights-based approach, inclusion and accessibility despite ratification of UN CRPD. Even three years have passed since Pakistan ratified UN CRPD in July 2011, but no action/plans are formulated to implement it, which gives the impression that the government is indifferent in follow-up measures, and this attitude is the main factor in the denial of the benefits of the international human rights system to the disability community of Pakistan. Besides, the state party’s initial report to the UN Human Rights Council on implementation of CRPD in Pakistan was due in August 2013, which has not been submitted yet, because the government mostly makes lame excuses and do not submit report in time for not having any remarkable measures to present under the convention, before the international community.
• The government must devise a mechanism to put existing legislation and policies into practice, and must create comprehensive, unequivocal and better disability legislation in conformity with CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) to make its guarantees under CRPD real in practice and protect persons with disabilities from all forms of neglect, abuse and exploitation.
• The government of Pakistan must fulfill its obligation under CRPD by preparing and presenting State Party Report to the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, on the actions undertaken since ratification of CRPD in 2011, to improve the situation of disability rights in Pakistan.
• The government must conduct an authentic and credible census after every five years to determine the exact population of persons with disabilities.
• The government must enhance reserved quota in education and employment for persons with disabilities in accordance with their share in the total population of Pakistan, and bound all public and private institutions to strictly enforce quota by recruiting eligibility persons with disabilities on reserved seats, and take stern action against elements violating the quota and accommodating non-disabled persons in place of disabled persons.
• The government must take up the causes of disability by taking effective measures for the prevention of disability.
• The government must build favorable environment for ensuring easy access of people with disabilities to public transportation, buildings and places based on universally accepted disability standards, and for the removal of various barriers that prevent a person with disability from becoming part of a truly inclusive society, and participating in an activity or receiving services on an equal basis with others.
• All concerned offices must be accessible and established on ground floor in order to avoid sufferings faced by persons with disabilities during passing through stairs instead of ramp or elevator, whereas at least one toilet/washroom in all concerned offices must be reserved, easily accessible and usable for persons with disabilities.
• The government must include persons with disabilities and organizations working on disability issues into their meetings while making policies and decisions regarding persons with disabilities.
(Shazia George, the writer is a women’s rights activist advocating for the rights of minority women, women victims of violence, women with disabilities and women workers)

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