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Disabled women in Uganda face double discrimination

They endure stigma, discrimination, violence and extreme poverty, but Ugandan women living with disabilities say the greatest challenge facing them centres on their reproductive health, writes Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi.

But reproductive health rights of women with disabilities are not violated only during child birth. Sexual exploitation is another problem which subsequently leads to unwanted pregnancy and complications during child birth. It also increases their chances of acquiring sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, health experts say.

"Women with disabilities are vulnerable to sexual violence because many in society believe that they are asexual and thus are free from HIV/AIDS," State of Uganda’s Population report 2008 says.

Moreover, the report says, these women are also often left out of reproductive health sensitisation and awareness programmes because the providers also consider them asexual. Consequently, girls with disabilities suffer from sexually transmitted infections without access to counselling and treatment because they are always kept at home.

"They (girls) are easily taken advantage of because of their (disability) status. Taking care of them is hard and most parents ignore them when they are sick," says ‘Rapid Sexual and Reproductive Health Assessment in Northern Uganda’ a 2006 study by United Nations Population Fund.

Government insists that its national programmes are all-inclusive. "Our national policy on disability emphasises inclusiveness of all types of disabilities. We are looking at non-discrimination, and as a result we also develop programmes which are gender sensitive rather than disability sensitive," says Herbert Baryayebwa, Commissioner for the Elderly and Disable in the ministry of labour, gender and social development.

However, people with disabilities say, in spite of these ‘all-inclusive’ frameworks, they are still being marginalised, not only in national development programmes but even at the international level like the Millennium Development Goals which have no mention of people living with disabilities in any of its targets.

"At the moment, not much is really being done in integrating people living with disabilities in the development process," Guzu says.

The situation above is aggravated by lack of national disability statistics. For instance, the national Human Development Report and Millennium Development Goals progress reports have no mention of people with disabilities, hindering government’s capacity to come up with development programmes for this vulnerable group who constitute 18 percent of Uganda’s 30 million people, according to June 2008 figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.

Copyright Inter Press Service (IPS).

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