Early parliamentary and local elections are called in Serbia and voters will hit the polls on 24th April 2016. Those with a right to vote among approximately 800,000 disabled people are likely to abstain yet again from participation in elections. Reasons are manifold and the main ones relate to the accessibility of the election process, including polling stations, campaign materials and political party programs, as well as low education and self-confidence levels of disabled people.
Strengthening political participation of disabled persons in Serbia is a project actively working to remove policy, legal, procedural and attitudinal obstacles to participation of this significant community of interest in equality. The project is implemented by the Center for Independent living Serbia in partnership with the National organization of disabled people in Serbia, with support of U.S. Agency for International Development – USAID.
The Project Team led by Gordana Rajkov, Project Director and long-time disability movement activist, has accomplished many small victories but she is the first to acknowledge that the process of putting commitments to equality and anti-discrimination in practice has only just begun.
“We are putting levers in place so that the status quo can be effectively challenged. We have initiated a Parliamentary Disability Caucus Group right before the elections, so now we have to try and do it all over again. It is very much about being precise, passionate and persistent. People find that mix difficult to resist. Partnership and stakeholder involvement are key to this change process. Nothing about us without us remains at the core, and we do need to include others to make the change stick.”
The project is supporting electoral reform through the establishment of an Election reform working group that seeks to remove the barriers for disabled people in the election process. Fruits of their efforts include a series of practical guides and instructions on accessible election process to Republic Election Commission, National regulatory body on electronic media, organizations of disabled people, political parties and advertising agencies working on elections.
These simple and tailored guides seek to assist elections practitioners with putting into practice rules that exist on paper but are not implemented to date. In fact, so many rules and laws are changing in Serbia and it is hard to keep up. Also, not everyone is a legal professional and laws and bylaws tend to be written in such an administrative language that puts people off. Most importantly, institutions are more responsive to an articulated demand. Thus, the full effects of these fruits of disability movement’s joint work will be felt in the forthcoming elections. It is important to note that a broad range of organizations of disabled people is taking part in this effort.
As solid constructions as best built from the ground up, so is the project rooted in local level activities in 5 communities in Serbia. It seeks to strengthen capacities of local disabled people’s organizations for participation in the policy process, to reinforce links with local decision makers and to make sure that there is a feedback loop to national level decision makers.
The Project team is now seeking ways to organize a study trip to an EU member state with a Parliamentary Disability Caucus Group. All ideas and contacts from ENIL members are welcome!
Find out more about the project at