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Let women, girls with disabilities enjoy sexual, reproductive health

Tuesday November 19 2019

reproductive health

Activists protest in Nairobi on April 10, 2019, calling for health stakeholders to ensure all women have access to sexual and reproductive health services indiscriminately. Sexual and reproductive health are matters of fundamental human rights. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NJERI RUGENE
By NJERI RUGENE
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Nairobi successfully hosted the International Conference on Development and Population (ICPD+25) after beating the odds and weathering barriers and unnecessary controversies from individuals and groups.

AWARENESS

A straightforward international meeting with a clear agenda, ICPD+25 ended on a high note. There were concrete commitments and a clear way forward to transform the lives of women and girls — by acting to end maternal deaths, gender-based violence, the unmet need for family planning and the ever-stubborn and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030.

Dr Natalia Kanem, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director, summed it up thus: “Together, we will make the next 10 years a decade of action and results for women and girls, keeping their rights and choices at the centre of everything we do.”

There were unique, progressive and motivating conversations. The most outstanding for me were forums and discussions around reproductive health rights for women and girls with disabilities and their access to related services. Such awareness forums were held by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in partnership with Special Olympics Kenya and Women Challenged to Challenge, an outfit exclusively for women and girls with disabilities.

HUMILIATION

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Here, we heard the real stories and experiences — challenges, barriers and outright discrimination — of women with disabilities as they strive to access their right to sexual and reproductive health, including education on the same.

It is a big shame that the discrimination is perpetuated even by medical staff, including doctors and nurses. And that came from the mouths of some of the victims. They spoke of these obnoxious and shameful deeds by professionals who should know better.

We heard from a woman who, for fear of ridicule, mistreatment and discrimination, shunned the hospital and gave birth to her second child at home, all by herself. She could not stand the ridicule and humiliation that she underwent at the hands of nurses and medical staff at a hospital where she delivered her firstborn. Some of the comments that she had to endure are unprintable.

UNREPORTED

A study by Women Challenged to Challenge paints the grim reality on women and girls with disabilities in regard to access to sexual reproductive health rights, which includes family planning services. It shows that these women encounter more barriers, challenges and open discrimination than other women of reproductive age do.

The organisation’s director, Jane Kihungi, asked medical institutions, healthcare providers and practitioners to put an end to such horrible practices and do what has to be done, including enforcing the relevant laws and guidelines.

While the discrimination against women and girls with disabilities in as far as their sexual and reproductive health rights is blanket, those with intellectual disabilities are hit harder. They face greater risks of sexual and physical violence which, as Susan Masila, executive director of Special Olympics Kenya, says, goes largely unreported and, worse, are not accorded the opportunity to access sexual and reproductive health services, including related education.

RETROGRESSIVE

They have not had it easy either when they seek justice in the courts. The denial of justice is, apparently, due to their disability and vulnerability. Rapists and defilers of such women usually get away with their crime as justice is elusive and cases take years to be concluded.

Various studies, including a recent one by UNFPA, shows that girls and young women with disabilities are seen as not needing information about sexual and reproductive health and rights, or even capable of making decisions on the same.

The world should witness transformation following the Nairobi summit’s commitments, as promises begin to be honoured. For instance, Kenya has pledged to end the retrogressive culture of female genital mutilation/cut by 2022.

Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene

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