SEXUAL HEALTH AND DISABILITY IN ZIMBABWE

Introduction

Fifteen percent of the world population is estimated to have some sort of disability, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2011), with the WHO World Report further noting that the majority of people with disabilities are found in low-income countries. Women constitute the majority of the people with disabilities in low-income countries (Phillips 2012). Whereas people with disabilities constitute a significant proportion of these populations, their sexual and reproductive rights remain a contested terrain, especially in low-income countries (DeBeaudrap et al. 2019) People with disabilities, especially women, face various challenges in accessing their sexual and reproductive rights. In most African countries, disability is viewed from the medical and charitable perspectives. The medical model assumes that people with disabilities are sick people who need the intervention of medical facilities for them to function and fit well into the dictates of societies (Retief and Letsosa 2018).This “sick role” that is given to people with disabilities has resulted in their marginalisation and exclusion from discourse on sexual and reproductive health issues. Put simply, people with disabilities are considered to be sick people who do not have the mental and physical stamina to indulge in sexual activities. As observed by Rugoho (2017), disability models that are promoted by societies and governments have a bearing on the promotion of the rights of people with disabilities. He noted that countries which views disabilities from a medical perspective have retrogressive laws on disability, such as treating them as charity cases, not as rights holders. Those countries which used a rights-based approach have progressive laws on disability. Countries using the medical and charitable models are lagging behind those with a rights-based approach in the promotion of disability rights.

There are multiple reasons that might explain why societies do not want people with disabilities to engage in sexual and reproductive issues. Some communities believe that people with disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities, are promiscuous and hyper-sexed (Rohleder and Swartz 2009). The fact that they are seen as hyper-sexual means they should not be exposed to sexual knowledge and information. This school of thought considers that people with disabilities will have sex recklessly. From this perspective, it is clear that people with disabilities are regarded as people without the mental capacity to make decisions concerning their sexual lives. Communities have a tendency of generalising that all people with disabilities have no decision-making capacities when it comes to sexual issues. Some communities simply view people with disabilities as being asexual (Kim 2011; Shah 2017). Hence, it may be thought that there is no need to provide people with disabilities with sexual opportunities because they will not utilise them. In the context of Zimbabwe, Peta (2017) found that communities do not approve of people with disabilities being sexually active. Young women with disabilities find it difficult to express their sexuality because of how they are viewed by the community. The negative stereotypes and discrimination have forced many into celibacy. Peta (2017) further noted that men with disabilities were in a better position, compared with their female counterparts, when it comes to being potential marital partners. Men with disabilities are more likely to get married to non-disabled women. Zimbabwean communities do not have the knowledge and understanding of sexual rights for disabled people (Rugoho and Maphosa 2017). In most cases, they deny people with disabilities access to sexual education. Some still do not approve of people with disabilities getting married.

In most countries, there are a lot of cultural and religious beliefs which hamper the promotion of disability rights. There are many superstitions that surround disability issues (Bunning et al. 2017; Rohleder et al. 2018). For example, disability is closely associated with witchcraft (Rugoho and Maphosa 2017). People with disabilities are seen as victims of witchcraft. This view has resulted in societies not treating disability as part of normal diversity. Instead of promoting the rights of people with disabilities, more effort is put towards a curative approach. Marrying or having sexual relationships with a person with a disability can stimulate many negative reactions in the community. Some believe that marrying women with disabilities can bring bad omens to the family. Some communities also prohibit people with disabilities from indulging in sexual and reproductive activity, for they fear that the disability can be transferred via sexual intercourse. They believe that parents with disabilities can transfer “the disability gene” to their children, with women with disabilities being more likely to give birth to children with disabilities. In this chapter, specific issues relevant to the sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities will be discussed.

 
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