By Abiosseh Davis, Program Officer, Counterpart International

In every country in the world, approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population lives with one or more disabilities. These people often face challenges well beyond the physical: discrimination and exploitation are common. People with disabilities are often underrepresented in political office, and marginalized by policies that are blind to their needs and interests.

In Cameroon, approximately 15 percent of the population lives with disabilities.  People with disabilities are the least represented demographic among politicians, top level government officials and even registered voters. Not a single person with a disability currently holds a parliamentary office or serves in an executive government position.  The majority of people with disabilities who are eligible to vote are not registered. Among those who are, up to 80 percent were unable to participate in the 2011 presidential elections due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of electoral processes and procedures, and a lack of accessible registration and voting facilities.

These historical conditions, coupled with changes to the country’s electoral code and the adoption of a new biometric registration process necessitated the collaboration of civil society, the media and Elections Cameroon (the entity tasked with administering elections) to ensure voter registration and participation, particularly among demographics with low voter turn-out.

During the past year, Counterpart International’s Strengthening Civic Engagement in Cameroon (SCE) program disbursed 34 small grants to civil society organizations and media outlets to promote voter participation in the presidential, legislative and municipal elections. SCE is a program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to promote broader citizen participation in democratic processes through peaceful, free and fair, and increasingly credible presidential and parliamentary elections in Cameroon.

Four of SCE’s grant recipients worked specifically with disabled people: Association Nationale des Jeunes Handicapés du Cameroon, Groupe d’Action pour la Promotion des Personnes Handicapées, Organisation Camerounaise pour le Développement des Sourds, and Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme Cameroun.

These grantees held community meetings to distribute information on the biometric registration process, organized debates, and broadcast radio and TV programs illuminating the challenges faced by people with disabilities when registering or voting. One organization trained people with disabilities on election observation, and another educated leaders of organizations representing people with disabilities on the new electoral processes.  One group even put on a basketball match for people with disabilities to raise awareness on the biometric registration and voting process.

Through the efforts of these dedicated grantees, SCE hopes to inform people living with disabilities about their right to vote, and provide them with practical information about how to participate in the electoral process as voters, and as candidates.