Reproductive Health Justice for Women with Disabilities

Post Date: 31 August 2016

Every dawn, women around the world arise to go about their daily routines and they all have different stories to tell at dusk. When the sun sets on them, some are glad the day is over, others let the sun sink into the horizon with their sorrows, and hope to live or not to live another dawn, depending on the story. Life goes by, a day at a time, slowly translates into a year, and another year.

For the women with disabilities it’s a different story altogether and especially in their  quest to access reproductive health services. In their pursuit to access reproductive health services, these women face a myriad of challenges, which when said in all languages possible, come down to downright human injustice. They are victims of double discrimination, first by their status as women and second by their disability (gender and ability).
A public inquiry report launched by KNHRC indicates that women with disabilities suffer stigma and discrimination when they seek reproductive health services. They face harassment from health service providers. Cases have been reported of medical personnel performing medical procedures on them without their consent. This has to do with for instance forced sterilization and abortion because of the stereotype and misguided assumptions that they are incapable of experiencing the sensation of physical or emotional pain or pleasure.
The deaf and blind cannot access information on reproductive health and family planning because of course there are no special programmes to ensure that they access this information in  a way compatible to their interests. The physically disabled cannot access the facilities due to lack of or unsuitable ramps and high examination beds. In addition to this, they face a hard hitting battle when they are facing a complex delivery system that does not meet their needs. They are then consequently subjected to humiliation and compromised health services. This in turn leads to a self perpetuating cycle where they hesitate to seek reproductive health care because of prior experiences.
It’s the 21st Century, and we are all aware about the extensive  affirmative action going on from civil society organizations and other gender stakeholders. We have seen the remarkable results. Women’s rights have been amplified as a result of landmark legislation and litigation, but women with disabilities still experience lagging equality in accessing adequate reproductive health care.
It’s a call to all healthcare activists and policy makers to close the abysmal health gaps that persist with women with disabilities, to all of us reading this to ensure reproductive justice for the women with disabilities is achieved. It’s our duty to stay true to the provisions of Article 54 of the Kenyan Constitution, and to all the international human rights standards.
Ceciliah Mumbi is a support staff member at FIDA – Kenya.