People with disabilities and SRHR in Asia Pacific | Phyu Nwe Win's intervention text

P H Y U   N W E   W I N

"Thank you for inviting me and for allowing me to talk about this very important topic. I will share some of my experiences, views and thoughts about the interlinkages of disability and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in our region.

There are 690 million people with disabilities in the Asia Pacific. In my country, Myanmar, we have 2.3 million people with disabilities, which is 4.6 percent of the total population as per the census of 2014.

Most of the countries in the Asia Pacific region have focused on improving people with disabilities’ access to employment and education to minimise discrimination in these areas. However, limited attention is given to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of people with disabilities. Several research findings suggest that people with disabilities have high unmet needs in relation to sexual and reproductive health. This is mainly due to social perceptions suggesting that people with disabilities, especially young women and girls, lack sexual desire or agency and therefore are unlikely to have sexual and reproductive health needs.

In Myanmar, this view inhibits the ability of women and girls to meet their socialised gender role as childbearing wives and therefore leaves disabled women facing double discrimination. SRHR, in general, is a taboo topic to talk about and in relation to SRHR, people with disabilities are rendered "invisible."

They are stigmatised and excluded from sexuality education programmes due to lack of perceived need. When included in educational activities, people with disabilities often face barriers as materials specific to their needs are unavailable. They also find difficulty in accessing information from other sources like books, magazines, online and offline media. Networking, cooperation and partnership between stakeholders including government organisations, international non-government organisations, local non-government organisations and disability rights organisations are weak. Some organisations are providing SRH workshops but they struggle to integrate a disability lens within their programs. Because of the limited space and information, people with disabilities can’t make informed and healthy choices in their lives. Forced marriage, domestic and sexual violence, lack of power when negotiating for safer sex, myths and misinformation in relation to SRHR are rampant among women and girls with disabilities. This results in them having adverse SRH outcomes. For example, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Among all, those who are the least educated, the least wealthy, and the most severely impaired suffer the worst outcomes concerning SRH and not only have the highest needs, but the highest unmet needs.

In tackling the issue of SRHR amongst people with disabilities, it is therefore crucial that women and girls do not remain ‘invisible’ in meeting their SRH needs. How?

Communities should become more open to sexuality and disability and support their peers to achieve their SRH needs by integrating them in community programmes.

  • NGOs need to develop a disability lens within existing and future SRH programmes by forging links between organisations currently working on SRH and those currently working with people with disabilities/on disability rights.
  • NGOs should work with women with disabilities from a young age to empower them to be able to challenge stigmas and demand their rights. They should also educate families, communities and healthcare providers on disability issues to break down barriers that produce oppressive environments.
  • The SRHR of people with disabilities should be recongnised within existing policies and their needs as a social grouping given the same considerations as others.
  • Finally, the voices and opinions of people with disabilities should be prioritised and taken into account in the planning and implementation of policies, programmes and activities.

Phyu Nwe Win
Colorful Girls, Myanmar