First lady of Pakistan pitches for inclusive society for people of determination at Expo 2020 Dubai event


Dubai: Samina Alvi, the First Lady of Pakistan — wife of President Dr Arif Alvi — highlighted the need for an inclusive society for people of determination at an Expo 2020 Dubai event on Thursday.

An ardent advocate of the rights of people of determination, Alvi was the chief guest at a seminar on 'Pakistan — A progressive country towards inclusion and empowerment of persons with disabilities', held at the Pakistan Pavilion at Expo. 2020 Dubai.

She said she was happy that the event was held at Expo 2020 Dubai "from where the true image of Pakistan in culture, business, trade and tourism has been projected during last five months". "We are trying to uplift the image of Pakistan in all fields. The president of Pakistan and myself personally feel great love and concern for the persons with disability and they are very close to our hearts. It is my immense pleasure to be here, talking about this segment of society that really deserves access to all opportunities, particularly in education and employment," she said.

Having visited special schools and training centres for people of determination across Pakistan, she said she had seen how they were gifted with several capabilities. "But unfortunately, society is not disability-inclusive. The Government of Pakistan is trying to remove the sense of deprivation in persons with disability by giving them equal opportunity in all walks of life," she said.

Samina Alvi, Sheikha Dr Hind Al Qassimi and other dignitaries at the seminar in Pakistan Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai.

Comprehensive polices, projects

She presented an overview of the comprehensive policies and projects adopted to provide single-window registration for people of determination, to enhance their financial independence by opening bank accounts as well as by creating employment opportunities in banks and other institutions. She also highlighted the low-cost housing scheme and educational scholarship scheme for people of determination

"We have enhanced the quota of persons with disability in government jobs. We have also requested private organisations to create job opportunities and ensure their placement to make them strong and confident," Alvi said.

"It is our religious duty to take care of special persons. Let’s join hands to work together for this segment of society who deserves our love and special attention," she added.

Exchanging best practices

Speaking to Gulf News later, Alvi said her visit was also aimed at seeking exchange of best practices with the UAE, especially Dubai, in providing an inclusive society for the differently-abled. She said the Expo has been "beautifully done". "Dubai is not only a beautiful place to visit, it is also very accessible for the differently-abled. We really appreciate what Dubai is doing [in this regard]. We want to adopt a few good things from here and we want to share what we are doing in Pakistan also," she said.

New census method

Alvi said a new method that is going to be adopted in Pakistan's national census is expected to give a clear picture about the number of people with physical limitations in the country. "We have added six questions from the Washington Group to the census questionnaire. It will give high quality, reliable data, which will be based on international standards," she said.

The new questionnaire will be added to the upcoming national census in 2023, said Dr Maryam Mallick, the technical director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Pakistan for disability, rehabilitation, injury prevention and road safety, who earlier made a presentation on 'A vision towards disability-inclusive Pakistan'.

Adeeb Aijaz, co-founder of Determined Pakistan, addresses guests at Pakistan Pavilion on Thursday

With inadequate tools for assessing disability through previous censuses, the number of people of determination at the national level has not been assessed accurately, she pointed out.

Extrapolating the WHO's estimate that 15 per cent of the population suffers from a form of disability, Dr Mallick said there are around 33 million people in Pakistan living with some kind of disability. She said the Federal Bureau of Statistics has added six questions prepared by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics, which will be used to determine the number of people with physical challenges through the next census. "We are also going to have a disability-disaggregated data registration for persons with disability in the national database," she added.

High Political Commitment

Citing several initiatives taken by Pakistan to uplift people of determination and appreciating the personal involvement of the president and the first lady of Pakistan in supporting them, Dr Mallick said the highest level of political commitment has made a sea of change in the empowerment and inclusion of the special segment of the society.

Sheikha Dr Hind Al Qassimi, who was the guest of honour, said she was impressed by the great progress made by Pakistan in offering support to people of determination.

The event witnessed a panel discussion and presentation of success stories of different groups in supporting people of determination through various initiatives and products. It also became an example of inclusion by having a physically-challenged host (disability advocate and lawyer Sana Khurshid) and a live sign-language interpretation by sign language specialist Azima Dhanjee, who co-founded ConnectHear — a Pakistani startup that provides sign-language interpretation services through a mobile app.