Sexual and reproductive rights for disabled women in Zimbabwe

Involved alumni:

The challenge that the project addresses

Christine Peta founded the Disability Centre for Africa (DCFA) in order to address the marginalization of disabled persons in Zimbabwe. The focus of this project is on disabled women who remain silent while their sexuality is ignored. Sexual/reproductive health and HIV programs isolate disabled women; yet HIV does not check first if a person is disabled or not. Like all women, disabled women fall pregnant and bear children; they are particularly vulnerable to rape, including the deaf (unable to scream for help) and the blind (unable to see the perpetrator). This project argues that disabled women are not devoid of sexual experiences and they should be consciously included in sexual health programs.

What is your project doing to respond to this challenge?

  • Publishing disabled women’s sexual narratives; educating stakeholders and making recommendations for healthcare policy/practice.
  • Debunking the myth that having sex with disabled women cures men of HIV, which results in some disabled women being raped.
  • Challenging stereotypes such as; “talking about sex instills sexual feelings in disabled people” [there is no such thing as instilling sexual feelings, because feelings are already present in all human beings].
  • Providing a place of convergence for disabled women to meet/unite and demand the right to sexual health services and supplying information in appropriate formats, such as sign language for the deaf and Braille for the blind.
  • Forming alliances with other sexual reproductive health/HIV programs, advocating for the conscious inclusion of disabled women.
  • Engaging the health sector with regards to allowing family/community birth companions in delivery wards (some deaf women reportedly lose babies because healthcare staff is unable to use sign language).

Describe the project's impact

  • Pulling sexuality and disability out of the closet is demystifying harmful beliefs and fostering a deeper understanding of issues affecting disabled women; recommendations are promoting the review of health-care policy/practice.
  • Disabled women are being empowered to speak out so that their voices are heard as they challenge practices of oppression that characterize their sexual experiences, thus adopting a self-advocacy approach.
  • At DCFA, disabled women engage in peer counselling, share sexual experiences and assist one another in a myriad of ways under the self-help programme.
  • Rapists who regard disabled women as easy, voiceless targets are becoming aware that such women and their families now have an attentive platform which discusses, publishes and refers cases for investigation/prosecution.
  • Sexual/reproductive health and HIV programmes are making conscious efforts to include disabled persons, thus adopting a multidimensional approach which aims to reach all vulnerable groups including disabled females/males.
  • Efforts are likely to improve access to sexual/reproductive healthcare, reduce unwanted pregnancies, STI and HIV infection and the number of disabled women who suffer and die quietly in their homes.
  • Birth companions are expected to lessen the distress that disabled women experience in child delivery wards.