Acclaiming Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for Women with Disabilities in Zimbabwe

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By Nyasha N’onzwe

The sexuality and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs of women and girls with disabilities are often omitted in sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) programming. However, women and girls with disabilities are sexual and have the same SRH needs as women and girls without disabilities. Accordingly, the sexuality and SHR needs of women and girls with disabilities should be included in SRHR programming.

Including women and girls with disabilities in SRHR programming begins with addressing the lingering myths about the sexuality of women and girls with disabilities. These myths include perceptions that women and girls with disabilities are asexual or hypersexual (lacking control of sexual urges); incapable of reproduction or too weak to carry a pregnancy; and unattractive or unfit for marriage or being sexual partners (Mantsebo 2018). These myths are far from the truth. Accordingly, addressing these myths should be a top priority in SRHR programming.

In addition to addressing these myths, measures should be taken to protect women and girls with disabilities from harmful practices and to ensure that they have equal access to SHR services. Many women and girls with disabilities have been victims to harmful practices such as forced abortions, sterilizations or the virgin cleansing myth (the belief that having sex with a virgin girl cures a man of HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases). These practices not only harm women and girls with disabilities, but also tarnish their dignity and sense of self-worth.

Many women and girls with disabilities have also been turned down when trying to access sexual reproductive health services at both public and private health care facilities. Some of the people at these facilities ask them, ‘Why do you need this when you have a disability?’ Such people deny women and girls with disabilities access to SRH services. This is wrong. Being a person with a disability does not mean that the person is asexual and should be denied access to SRH services.  

SRHR are fundamental human rights which are enshrined in several national, regional and international laws and agreements. SRHR issues should be taken as an integral part of girls and women with disabilities’ rights to be free from discrimination, coercion and violence. SRHR should be used to promote bodily integrity, dignity, equality and respect for women with disabilities.

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