The 2020 Global Gender Gap Report ranks Pakistan 93rd out of 153 countries in terms of political empowerment for women. While women with disabilities face heightened challenges to political participation and as discriminatory practices are further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 response and recovery efforts also provide a unique opportunity to reimagine new approaches to governance and development. In order to leverage this opportunity to build more inclusive societies, it is critical that women with disabilities are among the leaders shaping policy development efforts.
To support women with disabilities in advocating for equal access to rights within their communities, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) worked with the Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP) to implement the Power to Persuade program that trained 101 Pakistani women with disabilities on how to influence policy development. Following the Power to Persuade trainings, alumnae worked in groups to develop policy platforms that outlined shared advocacy priorities for women advocates with disabilities from across all four provinces. Drawing on these policy platforms, the Power to Persuade alumnae, IFES and STEP held five high-level policy dialogues in all four provinces as well as Islamabad.
The policy dialogues brought together a total of 239 women with disabilities and government officials representing health and education departments, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the Social Welfare Department, the Ministry of Planning and Parliament. The dialogues provided an opportunity for Power to Persuade alumnae to present their collective priorities and call on government officials and leaders to take steps to promote the rights of women with disabilities.
The government stakeholders made significant commitments as a result of these dialogues. Some of these commitments include the establishment of a disability inclusion task force in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh province, increased support of door-to-door NIC registration for persons with disabilities in Balochistan, and a commitment to make more accessible websites for persons with disabilities.
The dialogues provided a critical opportunity for Power to Persuade alumnae to bring attention to their collective policy priorities and to establish joint commitments with policymakers to ensure equal access to rights for Pakistani women with disabilities. Recognizing that advocacy is an ongoing effort, Power to Persuade alumnae will build on relationships and connections forged through these dialogues to continue to hold government officials accountable to meet their commitments to ensuring gender and disability-inclusive development in Pakistan. IFES’ Power to Persuade work in Pakistan is carried out with support from Global Affairs Canada.