A new film from Young Voices Swaziland
Elections and Boundaries Commission promises to make sure disabled people can vote in the national elections without challenges
Young Voices members in Swaziland recently met with the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), along with the Director of Cheshire Homes Swaziland. They discussed the importance of people with disabilities being able to take part in this year’s national elections. They highlighted the challenges that people with disabilities face when voting, and set out a number of improvements that they would like to see. These included a booklet to guide people with disabilities through the election process, allowing people with disabilities not to queue when voting and preparing tactile ballot papers for visually impaired people.
The Chairperson of the EBC said that the concerns they had raised were very legitimate, and that he would be taking steps to make sure that people with disabilities vote without challenges. He said: “We are also at looking at having people with disabilities assist during the elections. We believe that this is a start of a relationship that will go further than this year’s elections.” The group will be monitoring the elections to see whether people with disabilities experience any difficulties with voting.
You can read more about the meeting in an article in the Swazi Observer.
A US-based organisation, PACT, has funded an HIV/AIDS prevention project in Matsapha, Swaziland with a $110,000 grant from USAID and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The project will train Young Voices members and other people with disabilities to be peer educators who will provide ongoing HIV education to other disabled people. They will also inform people about HIV testing and provide opportunities to discuss sexuality, disability and HIV prevention. Those involved hope that the project will help people get to know their HIV status and use this information in their own lives.
When the King of Swaziland ratified the UNCRPD on 24 September it was a proud day for Swaziland Young Voices. They had trained a group of 30 MPs in the Convention last August, and have been told that this and their ongoing campaign led to the ratification. Since the training, MPs spoke openly for the first time about disability discrimination in parliament and the national media. Now Young Voices will work with the government to implement the Convention.
Months of lobbying by Swaziland Young Voices and the local Cheshire home has culminated in two national victories. First, the minister for sports and senior civil servants agreed that a Young Voices member could join the national sports board to ensure that people with disabilities are represented in sports nationwide. Then, on 31 August and 1 September, Young Voices members ran a training workshop on the government’s obligations and responsibilities under the Convention for approximately 30 parliamentarians. Supported by an external facilitator, the group had been invited to do the training by ministers and found themselves amazed at the ignorance they encountered among the parliamentarians. By the end, however, the parliamentarians were aware of the importance of a rights-based approach to disability and also promised to raise questions about disability within their debates and increase the number of motions adopted by the parliament on disability issues.
Young Voices met with local and national journalists in November to challenge the media to cover disability issues. Young Voices members also trained reporters from the Times of Swaziland (one of the country’s most highly read newspapers) in the best language to use when reporting disability issues. Following the meeting, the Sunday Times of Swaziland published several articles on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and related topics.
The Director of Disability from the Deputy Prime Minister’s office formally launched Young Voices in Swaziland on 28 June 2010. Among the 120 people attending the launch was Mr Craig Pike, the US Ambassador to Swaziland. After watching Young Voices members present music, drama and poetry to raise awareness of the UNCRPD, Mr Pike stated that this was ‘a celebration of a push for greater understanding within the communities for people with disabilities, for gainful employment, to full education, for the rights for all individuals’. To conclude the event, the representative from the Deputy Prime Minister’s office added: ‘Once again in launching the project I reaffirm government position in observing and involving all relevant groups including the Young people with disabilities in the implementation of the Convention’.
The Embassy of the United States in Swaziland has given a grant to support Young Voices in the country over the next six months. Members will use the grant to strengthen the groups’ organisation and train in campaigning and media skills.