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Disabled, women, youth participation in elections essential for inclusiveness

ONE of the most critical ways that individuals can influence governmental decision-making is through voting.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognises the integral role that transparent and open elections play to ensure the fundamental right to participatory government.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 21 states: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

In October this year, Tanzanians will elect their President and political representatives and although it is the right of every Tanzanian to be involved, there still remains some challenges facing several marginalised groups.

Last year, the country was involved in local government elections which pitted the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) against opposition parties and CCM emerged the overall winner in most areas. However, in these elections, the challenges which face these marginalised groups, including people with disabilities (PWD), women and the youth, emerged.

Most of them complained about several irregularities, which prompted Tanzania Youth Coalition (TYC) under the auspices of the USHIRIKI Coalition and coordination from National Democratic Institute (NDI) and USAID to conduct a survey and look at the participation of these people.

Zatwaa Langeti, the TYC consultant, conducted the study, and came up with the final presentation of findings of the ‘Post Civic Election Inclusion Analysis of the 2019 Local Government Elections,’ which specifically covered Ubungo and Kigamboni districts of Dar es Salaam.

In Tanzania, it is estimated that about 4.5 million people live with disabilities. For decades, PWDs face a few challenges such as abuse, lack of education, illiteracy and unemployment and despite the international law and national laws that protect their rights, the implementation of such laws lags behind.

As in other nations with policy commitments to the rights of persons with disabilities, principles and promises made in policy documents often are not reflected in direct action for intended beneficiaries, which in this case should translate into the marginalised groups.

As the country eagerly awaits the October General Election, it should be noted that PWDs, women and the youth have all the rights to participate, including being elected in political positions. Nations are increasingly demonstrating a commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities by formulating national policies that address their plight.

Among them, Tanzania has, in addition to being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), made a public commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities through a number of national policy mechanisms such as the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2010.

“The media should be in the frontline on this. Society too should realise that women, PWDs and the youth are part of society, they also can contribute the same or even more to social development if given an opportunity to access education and empowered to work,” says Rose Reuben, Tanzania Media Women's Association (Tamwa) Director and USHIRIKI Deputy Chairperson.

She says that the UN Women statement, which states that two main obstacles prevent women from participating fully in political life, which are structural barriers, where discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s ability to run for office and capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have education, contacts and resources to become effective leaders.

Back to the report, it was established that the majority of young people who were interviewed during analysis survey were not affiliated to any political party, which reduces their chances of participating fully in elections.

Zatwaa in his report further pointed that the youth also felt that political parties do not value their contribution in the society, but take advantage of their number and ability to mobilise.

“We further established that the youth are also concerned at the detrimental role money played in the 2019 election, where they claim that older and richer contestants from both the opposition and ruling parties lured voters long before the elections,” he points in his report.

The youth, according to the report, further noted that there is no youth coordinating organisation or network on the participation of the youth in elections, which makes it difficult for them to be fully involved in the electoral process.

The report recommends the need for civic society, development partners and political parties to put in place a good documentation mechanism and for the government and political parties to consider support for the youth, women and PWDs aspirants in order to empower them to compete on a level playing field with their male counterparts.

The report further advises the government to ensure that election regulations are deliberated on by Political Parties beforehand, and to make sure there are deliberate efforts by political parties and National Electoral Com mission to ensure that concerns of PWDs which were raised by SHIVYAWATA after the 2015 are addressed effectively.

On the other hand, the report recommends further that there is a need for CSOs to deliberate with the government and agree on the criteria for granting observer and voter education permits to increase the number of CSOs participating in the electoral process thereby also increasing the amount of alternative information of the electoral process.

“The government should implement the National Gender Policy which provides for a minimum of 50 per cent representation of women at all levels of political participation and continue ensure that women are well represented among election officials at all levels throughout the country,” part of the report says.

Finally, the report advocates the start of a constitutional review process to ensure the new Constitution enshrines gender-equitable principles in accordance with the country’s international, regional and national commitments, including the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action.

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