Islamabad : A holistic law dealing with the welfare and mainstreaming of Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs) can be a great leap forward. The will to do so has to come from political parties, which are presently finalizing their manifestoes for the upcoming elections. The participation of PWDs in different spheres of life will significantly increase if they are brought in the national mainstream.
These suggestions were floated at the Oxfam-sponsored launch of the report ‘Bringing Disability in the Constitutional Net,’ by Potohar Mental Health Association (PMHA), an organisation working for the wellbeing of PWDs.
PPP’s Secretary General Farhatullah Babar said, one way in which PWDs can be truly taken care of is by “mainstreaming” them. It is about taking steps that make them equal citizens of the country, a goal which is otherwise not realized due to exclusionary practices. Sharing examples from his own stint as senator, Babar said that other marginalized groups such as tribal areas residents and transgender were brought in the mainstream by parties and the Parliament taking proper political and constitutional steps.
Exclusion of PWDs can also be overcome, Babar said, calling for passing a comprehensive law that covers welfare of PWDs. The existing law is outdated and deals only with employment of PWDs. Terming political will as decisive factor, Babar disclosed that Pakistan People’s Party will take care of PWDs in its manifesto, which is to be unveiled soon, and called upon other parties to do so.
Earlier, PMHA’s President Zulqurnain Asghar lamented that the absence of any law means absence of any binding document to ensure that all rights of the PWDs, in specific, are upheld, and violators are held accountable. He also wondered as to how come the 2017 census showed a decline of PWD population, while population of the country in general has increased. Government data about PWDs is consistent, the report noted.
Noreen Khan, Assistant Director Legal at Baitul Maal, touched upon the barriers from society towards PWDs. The mindset of people, she said, needs to be changed. Babar too called for empathy in reaching out to PWDs. “The able-bodies”, he said, “should realize that physical disability can strike anyone with any time with any intensity.” If this is understood, there can be feelers of empathy, he said.
Taking part in the discussion, Amjad Nazeer and Maliha Hussain, working with different non-government organisations, pointed the need for taking special measures to ensure that the vote of a PWD is registered without any hassle and that they are provided with infrastructure facilities at polling stations.
Oxfam’s Gender and Justice Programme Manager Hadia Nusrat said PWDs face numerous challenges and only through meaningful participation in the democratic process can they voice their concerns and ensure the safeguarding of their rights. She also appreciated the role of a special cell in the Election Commission of Pakistan, which is taking care of PWDs, and hoped that these efforts would generate more awareness.