By Perseverance Javangwe
Sexual and reproductive health (SHR) is an essential component of health and a pillar for sustainable development that deserve important focus in Zimbabwe as unsafe sex, abortions, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), other sexual transmitted infections, sexual or gender-based violence and other pregnancy-related adverse outcomes constitute major risk factors of mortality and morbidity in these settings.
In his presentation during a gender and disability coordination workshop, Elvis Musirinofa who is the founder and executive director of Amor Zimbabwe Trust said despite the fact that people with disabilities make up the world’s 10% of the population they still lack access to information on SHR.
“Researchers have it that people with disabilities make up 10% of the world’s population overall, a disproportionate 20% of all persons living in poverty in developing countries are persons with disabilities. Stigma, prejudice, and denial of access to health services, education, jobs, and full participation in society make it more likely that a person with a disability will live in poverty. Despite these large numbers, the needs of persons with disabilities are often overlooked or neglected. Worse, many persons with disabilities are marginalized, they are deprived of freedom, and their human rights are violated.
“Historically, as part of this pattern, persons with disabilities have been denied information about sexual and reproductive health (SRH). Furthermore, they have often been denied the right to establish relationships and to decide whether, when, and with whom to have a family. Many have been subjected to forced sterilizations, forced abortions, or forced marriages. They are more likely to experience physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence,” he said.
A recent survey conducted in Southern Africa reported that the main barriers to health care involve the lack of transport especially in the rural areas, inadequate drugs or equipment and costs and found that both socioeconomic status and disability were associated with the likelihood of experiencing barriers.
Musirinofa postulated that access to information on SHR will ensure that PWDs will be able to willfully whether to engage in sexual activities or not.
“The United Nations defines reproductive health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive systems and to its functions and processes”
“That encompass the rights of all individuals with disabilities to make decisions concerning their sexual activities and reproduction free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to SHR ensures individuals are able to choose whether, when, and with whom to engage in sexual activity; to choose whether and when to have children; and to access the information and means to do so.
“DSRHR includes the right of all persons with disabilities to; seek, receive, and impart information related to sexuality, receive sexuality education, have respect for bodily integrity, choose their partner, decide to be sexually active or not, have consensual sexual relations, have consensual marriage, decide whether or not, and when, to have children, and pursue a satisfying, safe, and pleasurable sexual life,” he said.
Furthermore, Musirinofa aired out how the society’s view on PWDs has impact on the way they perceive the world. He also stated that if PWDs get more education on SHR it will help them make uniformed decisions and come up with their own businesses.
“The SRH of persons with disabilities has been overlooked by both the disability community and those working on SRH. This leaves persons with disabilities among the most marginalized groups when it comes to SRH services yet persons with disabilities have the same needs for SRH services as everyone else. In fact, persons with disabilities may actually have greater needs for SRH education and care than persons without disabilities due to their increased vulnerability to abuse.
“Some of the challenges they are facing are: a)gender based violence inform of sexual violence, forced marriages, forced unsafe abortions, limited choices on marriages and domestic violence), b)discrimination as most of the existing organisations that are into SRH are focusing much on the mainstream, c)disabled persons are lacking knowledge on SRH issues, d)unfair cultural practices such as genital cutting violating their rights, e)lack of information on disability sexuality, f)poor family planning practices among some people with disabilities, g)lack of information on the use of contraceptives, h)birth complications-maternal mortality, i)lack of information on STIs prevention measures, and j)unsafe abortion-complications such as loss of life
“From a research we carried out as Amor Zimbabwe Trust, we discovered out that most of these challenges faced by Disabled people are largely due to societal misconceptions, laws and regulations governing disability with are not being fully implemented hence the need for a serious DSRH awareness campaign and advocacy.
“…once they get enough education and empowered with knowledge on entrepreneurship, they come up with their own business and contribute to the national Gross Domestic products and services as well as Gross national income. Increased number of people attending schools means an increase in the number of people to join the labor market. Employers can never run of short thus an increase in companies’ productivity levels,” said.
People with disabilities have the same sexual and reproductive rights as everyone else and these have been explicitly described in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was adopted in 2006. Articles 16, 21, 23, and 25 state rights in relation to marriage, family, parenthood, relationship, fertility, access to information and SRH health services and freedom from exploitation and abuse.
The society and the health workers have a responsibility to work together with people with disabilities to uphold their sexual and reproductive health rights. It is not just about the people with disabilities only, but it is on everyone. Therefore, there is need for the society to advocate for the sexual and reproductive health rights of PWDs.