Established in 2011, the General Election Network for Disability Access (AGENDA) was formed as a forum to improve access to political and electoral opportunities for persons with disabilities in Southeast Asia through increased public awareness and advocacy for change. AGENDA is a creative partnership between IFES, disabled persons organizations (DPOs), and election-focused civil society organizations (CSOs. AGENDA is currently funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) during the first phase of the project. The AGENDA network’s principal objectives have been to promote election access in Southeast Asia and ensure that access to disability-inclusive political processes is on the human rights agenda of regional bodies, especially the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In its first three years, the AGENDA network has established a strong reputation amongst key stakeholders, including organizations focusing on politics and human rights, election commissions, and ASEAN and Asia-Pacific officials. The AGENDA partnership is now considered the lead Southeast Asian regional actor promoting the political rights of persons with disabilities.
Under the first phase of the AGENDA project, the following was accomplished:
- The Network in Seven Countries
The AGENDA partnership was successfully established between 12 DPOs and CSOs from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, and also included close collaboration with organizations in Myanmar. AGENDA further established collaborations with academic programs such as American University’s Institute on Disability and Public Policy Program (IDPP) and Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs (SIPA) to support several program activities including research and conferences.
- Research in Five Countries
The publication “Accessible Elections for Persons with Disabilities in the Southeast Asian Countries”, based on research conducted by AGENDA network organizations in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, was the first systematic attempt to gather data on election access and good practices from across the region.
- First Monitoring Checklist
The first checklist for monitoring election accessibility was developed and piloted in the local elections in Indonesia. It was then adapted for use in the Philippines, Cambodia and outside the region in the Dominican Republic. DPOs around the world have translated the checklist into over 10 languages including Arabic, French, Spanish, Tamil and Farsi. In Indonesia 410 observers were trained on disability access tools. Of these, 190 were women, which strengthened the experience and visibility of women – particularly women with disabilities – as active citizen participants in their communities.
- Training Election Administrators
AGENDA developed a training module for election administrators to increase awareness regarding electoral issues impacting the inclusion of persons with disabilities. AGENDA has trained 74 election officials using the module, including 22 in Indonesia, 32 in Cambodia and 20 in the Philippines.
- Regional Dialogues
Two regional conferences were organized by AGENDA, which focused on strengthening democracy by removing barriers towards full political participation. The regional dialogues involved more than 370 stakeholder representatives and officials from 26 countries.
- Recommendations for the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights
AGENDA was the first representative of the disability community to submit recommendations to AICHR on civil and political rights for the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). This input carried the endorsement of 65 organizations in the region. AGENDA was actively involved in regional consultations with AICHR in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to strengthen disability inclusion principles in the AHRD.
- Media Training
Quality and coverage of media reporting on accessible election issues increased based on efforts by AGENDA. Responding to AGENDA outreach and advocacy, media organizations increased their engagement on this issue. AGENDA also trained journalists from the ASEAN region on access issues strengthening the content of media reports.
AGENDA drew on insights from the regional dialogues to highlight the importance of political participation at the Human Rights Council in Geneva (June 2013) and to contribute to the Asia-Pacific input on the “Realization of the Millennium Development Goals for Persons with Disabilities” at a UNESCAP conference in Bangkok (May 2013).
- Human Rights Council
In June 2013, AGENDA’s Disability Rights advisor spoke at the 23rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Her attendance marked growing recognition and appreciation for the political rights of people with disabilities. During her speech, she underscored the importance of ensuring political rights for persons with disabilities.
A year earlier AGENDA was singled out by the Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister at the Human Rights Council in Geneva (April 2012) as an outstanding project supported by the Indonesian Government, as well as the first regional initiative of its kind.
Recent and Future Activities
Third Regional Dialogue
On January 28-29 AGENDA held the 3rd Regional Dialogue on Access to Elections for Persons with Disabilities in Jakarta. The dialogue was co-hosted by the KPU and the World Association of Election Bodies and attended by over 200 participants from 28 countries. Around 90 viewers were watching sessions of the event via live-streaming. The KPU Chairman provided one of opening remarks, Keynote Speech was given by Indonesian Representative to AICHR and closing remarks was delivered by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
AGENDA, on January 30 conducted a one day BRIDGE pilot-test on the newly developed BRIDGE module on Accessible Elections with around 17 participants from EMBs from Fiji, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and Indonesia. The pilot test in Indonesia is the final of several collaborative efforts across multiple regions, with previous testing in Haiti, Egypt, Nepal and Myanmar.
Monitoring Elections in Indonesia and Myanmar
The AGENDA team monitored the presidential election in Indonesia and plans to monitor upcoming elections in Myanmar with a local partner. In Indonesia 300 observers were deployed in 5 provinces monitoring over 450 polling stations, observing over 1000 voters with disabilities. AGENDA has published 2014 Indonesia Presidential Elections monitoring report.
Inclusion of the political rights of persons with disabilities in key regional frameworks: Organizing and leveraging its regional membership, AGENDA will work to ensure that ASEAN’s new human rights architecture is engaged by DPO and CSO leaders on the rights of persons with disabilities, especially the political rights of persons with disabilities.
AGENDA has published “Media Guidelines for Reporting on Accessible Elections”. AGENDA plans to train related stakeholder, particularly from the media on this matter.