The recently released UNDP Pakistan National Human Development Report 2020 on Inequality explores Pakistan’s economic and social inequalities. It highlights that although millions of Pakistanis have some form of disability, the country has a poor track record of protecting and empowering these groups.
The global population of persons with disabilities is estimated to be more than one billion, approximately 15 percent of the total world population (World Report on Disability, 2011). Some 80 percent of all persons with disabilities live in the Global South, notes the WHO and the World Bank Group fact-sheet, 2018. Applying the 15 percent prevalence rate to Pakistan with its current population of over 207 million, at least 31 million people with disabilities probably live in this country. However, due to social stigmas leading to disabilities being widely under-reported, most of these individuals remain among the unseen, unheard and uncounted population of Pakistan.
Policy approaches to disability in Pakistan have historically focused on rehabilitation, welfare handouts and charity. This began changing after the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) became operational in 2008 with the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The CRPD offers a blueprint for a rights-based approach for mainstreaming persons with disabilities.
Pakistan ratified the treaty in 2011 but progress around building an inclusive society has been slow. Legislation has still not been aligned with the social model of disability, which outlines that the barriers individuals face are not a result of their impairments, but are created by society, attitudes and the physical environment.
The current policy framework around disability neglects the critical issue of ensuring accessibility and accommodations to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
The increasing global commitment to mainstreaming persons with disabilities into development, and a strong disability rights movement has led to encouraging progress on inclusion and access around the world. But in Pakistan, the country’s size and scale and the difficulties in securing reliable data given the continued widespread stigma and discrimination of persons with disabilities, means that we are still far from fulfilling our commitments to the UNCRPD and providing persons with disabilities with the opportunities they need to flourish.
Despite these impediments, the Government of Pakistan is making efforts to help document people with disabilities. A specific module on disability was added to the PSLM district level survey to ensure better reporting of disability. However, despite these efforts, there is massive underreporting of disability data. At a rough Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ estimate, 31 million people are experiencing disabilities; NADRA’s records, however, suggest that there are only 371,000 individuals with disabilities in Pakistan. This may be due to the grave stigmatization of people with disabilities in the country, making them hesitant to register their disabilities. In this context, a good step could be to incentivize the registration of disabilities such as through providing scholarships, free check-ups, occasional support, enhanced social protection plans, and more. Registration of people with disabilities will push institutions to make special arrangements for them, including addressing issues of accessibility and special healthcare facilities. This reporting will therefore serve as an important step to identify, address and mitigate inequality in Pakistan for people with disabilities. To stop perpetuating in equality and to develop an inclusive and rights-based society for all, policymakers and leaders must bring about more systemic and institutional changes at all levels of decision making. This is something that all Pakistanis, not just disabled citizens and disabled people’s organisations, must continue to push for.
(The writer is the President of the Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP).
The UNDP National Human Development Report 2020 can be accessed at:https://www.pk.undp.org/content/pakistan/en/home/library/human-development-reports/PKNHDR-inequality.html
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021