Sunday 7 October marks the next presidential election in Cameroon. I hope that for many people, this year will be their first real opportunity to get to a polling station and vote.
For people with disabilities in Cameroon, this is no easy feat. There is a widespread belief that disability is the result of witchcraft or sin, so even a road traffic injury can mean individuals are rejected by society.
People with disabilities find themselves in poverty, facing prejudice and barriers at every turn. This means the vast majority don’t get to have a say at all in local or national politics in Cameroon.
Our work, and the challenges we face
In Sightsavers’ Cameroon office we work with incredible individuals who won’t accept the labels that society has given them.
Since 2010, we have been working with other disability groups across the country to build their participation in the political arena and to speak about the issues faced by people with disabilities. It is their human right to have an equal say in the policy decisions that affect their lives.
We started our political inclusion work in 2010. But before we could begin making political participation of people with disabilities a reality, we needed to get to the heart of the issue: changing people’s attitudes.
Many socially influential people we spoke to during our research saw people with disabilities as objects of pity and charity.
They would often ask why we wanted to give them the additional ‘burden’ of voting. We didn’t just hear this from partner organisations and politicians, but also from people with disabilities themselves.
Voting can be difficult for people with disabilities. Some don’t have a birth certificate so cannot get a national ID card, which means they are excluded from registering to vote. For those who have a birth certificate, money is needed to obtain a national ID card, and they must travel to the nearest ELECAM office to register, which could be some distance away and inaccessible.
If you have a disability, it can be almost impossible to travel anywhere without help. So, in the daily struggle to make ends meet, people with disabilities are getting excluded from politics; it can seem like this is a luxury for others to enjoy.