Disability and Reproductive Health

The  topic of reproductive health and disability is taboo. It is unspeakable and unspoken. That is wrong. Scope, a UK based charity have compiled an excellent guide to the topic. Here is our introduction to a week of disability and reproductive health.

 

  1. SEX

Yes people with disabilities can and do have sex. Every disability is different but they do not necessarily hinder an active sex life. What can hinder sexual relations are misinformed attitudes on disability.

 

  1. BIRTH

This is a two sided issue. We heard from a deaf lady who throughout her pregnancy was maligned by midwives and other health care professionals. WCC have, however, helped train 127 sign language midwives. We also heard from a Lady with Albinism who birthed a child with usual levels of melanin, elsewhere in the hospital another woman gave birth to a child with albinism and the medical staff tried to swap them. Some disability is inheritable, but we need better understanding about it.

  1. STD

As with birth there is a lack of understanding and acceptance about disability and sex. Therefore when a person with disability does contract a STD it is far more likely to be ignored or misdiagnosed.

 

  1. PUBERTY

Puberty hits us all hard. Some harder than others, and the strange developments which come with the onset of sexual maturity can be frightening if not properly articulated. So it is important that these changes are communicated early and clearly. It is also important that boundaries are established. It is normal for teenagers to start exploring their bodies, it is unpleasant if they do that in a public place and that has to be made clear.

 

  1. CRISIS

Two weeks ago WCC hosted an international conference on the place of women with disabilities in crisis areas. It was made sadly and repeatedly clear that women with disability were particularly vulnerable in these crisis zones. Moreover our own research has shown how vulnerable women and girls with disability are to sexual assault. This was compounded by the disbelief of the authorities when confronted by these assaults. We need to do more to educate our children on consent.

 

After the Battle

Last week during the meeting of The Network of African Women with Disabilities a consistent theme was the need to rebuild the lives and societies which are shattered by the outbreak of hostilities. The horrors of the conflict and persuction are followed cruelly by subsequent hardships which themselves will take time to overcome.

In the immediate flight there is the need to provide a safe space for these women. On the way through these areas of conflict medical supplies must have been limitied, access to food and water as well, and the means through which these might have been acquired are sometimes too terrible to consider. These concerns do not dissapear once a refugee camp has been reached, and it is important that we and our network partners provide a safe space in those camps as well as making it as easy as possible to access the neccessary supplies.

Our partners in the International Rescue Committee are doing great work across multiple camps trying where possible to make the safe space a one-stop shop for all the health, nutrional and care needs. This begins a long process of rehabilitation and social re-integration, and the work of such charities is vital to bring the human touch. In Ethiopian camps one of the ways in which women with disability were included was through their involvement in coffee ceremonies. A small but important step towards total inclusion.

Yet there is a life outside the camp and beyond the crisis as some of our delegates were testament to.  Their stories of renewal after harrowing experience moved the conference. They had found a role for themselves, and so must we help others find theirs.

We were asked to write down our hopes for the next ten years and someone wrote that they hoped to see no more camps and instead empowered women. Therein lies the future. The path out of this misery lies within, having survived the turmoil of a forced exodus an inner steel must be present, a steel which needs revealing and that is the mission which WCC is trying to achieve.

Sexual Violence in Kenya

Nearly one in three women in Kenya experience sexual violence before the age of 18 which is a distressing fact to live with. This a scourge in society which requires to be rectified and uniting together to take a stance against violence. However, due to the stigma and unwanted attention the women bring when reporting rape the figure is thought to be much higher. The lack of fundamental trust in the justice system and the police, results in perpetrators to escape punishment.

If we dig deeper into the statistics, the situation becomes even dire when sexual violence is studied for all Kenyans under the age of 18. The definition of sexual violence is to obtain a sexual act by coercion or violence; was experienced by 32% girls and 18% boys. The shocking statistic of this means one in two Kenyans before the age of 18, will have experienced sexual violence. The current population of Kenya under the age of 18 is 21 million which means statistically 10.5 million will have been affected by sexual violence. There is an epidemic growing inside our country and the problem will not disappear unless we, the people, stand up to this disease.

From this topic, the most at risk are the women and girls with disability. Women with disabilities are up to three times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse. They are easily coerced and taken advantage of due to their physical or mental limitations. WCC conducted its own baseline survey and from the report, which can be read by the link below, the women with disabilities were viewed as a curse or a bad omen. The consequence of this was the criminals who were responsible for the heinous atrocity, were never charged or prosecuted.

The cure to this abhorrent disease is through education and advocacy as well as a strong judicial process. We, the government and the people, must educate the children on acceptable behaviors and must provide a medium to those who are affected and above all else protect them. As Martin Luther Kings, Jr once said ‘The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’

For anyone interested in the full report on Gender Based Violence against Women with Disabilities click on the link below.

The Gender Based Violence Report