How we’re transforming political participation in Cameroon and Senegal

Laurène Leclercq, March 2023

Without being able to participate and contribute to politics, the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities cannot be heard.

Sightsavers is working in Cameroon and Senegal to support people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of political life, from being involved in local development work, to voting and standing for election.

Laurène Leclercq, Sightsavers’ global technical lead for education and social inclusion in West Africa, tells us about the award-winning project.

Zero Project award winner 2023 logo.
Our political participation work received a Zero Project award in 2023. About the award

What was the situation for the political participation and leadership of people with disabilities in Cameroon and Senegal before the project started?

When the project began in 2017, there were very few people with disabilities, especially women with disabilities, in decision-making positions. If people with disabilities were involved in decision-making processes, often they were vaguely consulted but there were multiple barriers to their meaningful participation. We knew that we wanted the project to focus on empowering women and men with disabilities in local governance and leadership. When people with disabilities are involved in consultations and leadership positions, it not only leads to their ideas and suggestions being taken into account, but helps people with disabilities be recognised as an important part of the community.

The key barrier is stigma and discrimination. In Senegal and Cameroon, there are strong cultural norms and beliefs that lead to people with disabilities not being considered as active citizens and seen instead as victims or passive beneficiaries. These views prevent people with disabilities being invited to participate. We found this was particularly the case for women with disabilities who face double barriers due to patriarchal norms that restrict their access to public spheres.

We also found that people with different types of impairment faced different barriers and levels of exclusion. For example, deaf people faced barriers due to a lack of accessible communications and in Cameroon, people with intellectual disabilities are not allowed to vote, which is a systemic obstacle.

We sometimes found this additional exclusion based on gender, age or impairment type was replicated within organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), so this was a learning journey. Within both Senegal and Cameroon, the subject of inclusive governance is sensitive and faced with numerous challenges, including separatism conflicts and terrorism.

A woman with crutches walks into a building.

We’re promoting inclusive elections

We work with partners in Cameroon and Senegal to ensure people like Isseu, Seynabou and Léonie can take part in every stage of the political process.

Read their stories

How did you promote the political leadership of people with disabilities?

We took a twin track approach – empowering people with disabilities and carrying out social and behaviour change activities at all levels to address the stigma and discrimination they face.

We worked with people with disabilities, including women, men and people with a variety of impairments, to be sure they could be represented and elected in decision-making groups. We then worked with community actors and local councillors to change their minds about the possibility that people with disabilities can contribute to society. We did a lot of systems-strengthening work, working with OPDs and governments, specifically around decentralisation.

We continue to work with key decentralisation institutions to be sure that every local council understands inclusive local development approaches, including how to make a participatory budget at the local level that is inclusive for people with disabilities. For the first time in Cameroon and Senegal, women and men with disabilities are represented in political leadership. Today, 204 people with disabilities are either elected local councillors, parliamentarians, senators or official representatives in local working groups, or have been included on political party lists in a position eligible for election for the first time.

There is also progress in other elements of political participation and leadership; nearly 3,500 people with disabilities received birth certificates, ID cards or voter cards, which helped them to vote in elections, and 40,000 people with disabilities are now registered on the voting lists in Cameroon. In Senegal, 30 people with disabilities were appointed to election observers’ teams.

We also trained journalists, community and religious leaders, and staff from government and official bodies on disability rights and inclusion, helping to address the stigma and discrimination that restricts the rights of people with disabilities to express themselves as voters and active citizens.

Watch the video to see how we’re fighting for better political engagement of women with disabilities in Senegal.

Irish Aid logo The project in Cameroon and Senegal is funded by Irish Aid. Sightsavers will be continuing this political participation work in the two countries, and expanding it to Sierra Leone, later this year under ‘Ireland’s Civil Society Partnership for A Better World’ grant funded by Irish Aid.

This article was originally published by Social Development Direct in the Disability Inclusion Helpdesk’s Evidence Digest on political participation and leadership.


Laurène Leclercq is Sightsavers’ global technical lead for education and social inclusion in West Africa.


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