All people, regardless of disability, have the right to decide over their bodies and their sexuality.
Everyone has the right to know their rights and receive accurate information related to sexuality and health. Many people with disabilities do not have access to any sexual information and are discriminated against in maternity and health care. Information is rarely available in formats accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired. Premises are rarely adapted for those with reduced mobility and wheelchair users. People with intellectual disabilities are often completely excluded from information about body and sexuality and rights connected to it. It is also common for people with disabilities to be seen as asexual and therefore deliberately excluded from sexual education, information and support.
When people are not allowed to decide about their bodies or receive the health care they are entitled to, poverty increases. People die because of unsafe abortions, because they lack health care and maternity care, contraception and information or the opportunity to influence their own lives. Everyone has the right to:
- respected in their bodily integrity, their privacy and decide for themselves over their body and their privacy.
- freely define their own sexual identity, gender identity and gender expression.
- decide for yourself if and when you want to be sexually active
- choose if, when and with whom they will marry
- decide if and when you want to have children and how many children you want.
The right to decide for yourself
Everyone should be able to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. And women have the right to decide if they want to have children and, if so, how many children. For that, information about contraception and access to contraception is needed. Girls and women with disabilities often have less access to contraception and safe abortions, partly because they are treated in a discriminatory way by maternity care and family planning.
There is a need for good healthcare, with trained staff, so that women with disabilities receive the support they are entitled to in connection with pregnancy and childbirth. Many women with disabilities can and want to have children, but cannot keep their children because of the ignorance and discriminatory attitudes of those around them. Forced sterilization of men and women with disabilities still occurs in many parts of the world. A study conducted among women with intellectual disabilities in Mexico in 2015 showed that almost half had been recommended sterilization by a relative. Almost as many had also been sterilized, in some cases without the women understanding what the procedure entailed.
Unnecessarily difficult with periods
For many girls who get their first period, menstruation is something they know little or nothing about and in many parts of the world menstruating women are seen as impure. Menstruation then creates unnecessary fear and anxiety and limits the everyday life of girls and women.
The widespread lack of toilets, clean water and good menstrual protection means that many girls and women are forced to other less hygienic alternatives such as old, already used menstrual protection. Many girls are forced to stay home from school as there is often a lack of a good toilet and running water. Girls with disabilities often have a special need for functioning and private toilets and are sometimes also in need of assistance in connection with toilet visits and help with intimate hygiene.
Greater need but poorer access to care
Despite the fact that people with disabilities often have a greater need for good health care, they receive less of the care offered to the rest of the population. In several countries, more than half of all people with disabilities lack access to care, and in many cases the obstacles are even greater for women with disabilities.
A recurring problem is that care facilities are often not accessible to people with disabilities. People with disabilities report four times as often that they were treated badly, and three times as often that they were denied care.
People with disabilities, especially girls and women with disabilities, have less access to sexual information and services regarding sexual and reproductive health than other women. They are denied the right to make their own well-thought-out decisions about sexual relations, contraception and other forms of reproductive health care. This is particularly clear in the case of girls with intellectual disabilities. This means that girls and women run a higher risk of suffering from sexually transmitted diseases as well as unwanted pregnancies.
The UN highlights a comparison between five different countries that shows that pregnant women with disabilities to a greater extent than others are forced to give birth without the help of a professional midwife. This is due to the fact that these women are generally poorer, but also due to negative attitudes towards these women in healthcare.
Increased risk of violence and abuse
People with disabilities run a significantly higher risk of being exposed to violence and sexual abuse. Particularly vulnerable are children, young women and those with intellectual disabilities. Many in society see people with disabilities as less valuable and are aware that it may be more difficult for them to tell and be believed. It is common for the perpetrator to be someone you know, such as a teacher, neighbour, relative or partner.
Young women and girls with disabilities suffer from gender-related violence ten times more than young women and girls without any disabilities. Girls and boys with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities are four times more likely to suffer sexual and gender-based violence than children without disabilities. They are also almost three times as likely to be exposed to sexual violence. The statistics on the violence that affects children and young people with disabilities are incomplete and, according to several UN bodies, the real numbers are probably even higher.
Many people with disabilities do not know that others may not hurt them or that they have the right to decide over their own bodies. Those with disabilities that affect speech and communication find it difficult to tell about abuse and very few receive help and support.
Sexual violence is a serious violation of human rights and it is important that everyone who works with aid is aware of the special vulnerability that girls and women with disabilities live in. Information, support and care for those who have been subjected to violence, sexual abuse and violations must be adapted to people with disabilities and their accessibility needs.
- All people, regardless of disability, have the right to decide over their bodies and their sexuality.
- People with disabilities often do not have access to sexual information and are discriminated against in maternity and health care.
- Information about sexuality and health is rarely in an accessible format.
- People with disabilities are sometimes regarded as asexual and are thus deliberately excluded from sexual education and support.
- The lack of rights and access to care increases poverty and the risks of unsafe abortions and lack of maternal care.
- Everyone has the right to respect for their bodily integrity, to define their sexual identity, decide on their sexual activity, choose a partnership, and decide if and when they want to have children.
- People with disabilities have less access to contraceptives, safe abortions, and support in connection with pregnancy and childbirth.
- Lack of accessible toilets, clean water and adequate menstrual protection limits the daily lives of girls and women, especially for those with disabilities.
- People with disabilities have less access to care and face barriers within the health care system, resulting in discrimination and non-attendance of care.
- People with disabilities are at a higher risk of violence and sexual abuse, especially children and young women with intellectual disabilities.