Girls with disabilities kept in dark about sexual and reproductive rights

1 DECEMBER 2017

Girls with disabilities are kept in the dark about their sexual and reproductive health and often don’t know how to protect themselves against abuse, pregnancy and diseases, our latest report reveals.

The report, Let Me Decide and Thrive, produced through a collaboration with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, highlights the perfect storm of discrimination faced by girls with disabilities, which leaves many of them totally unaware of their rights. The failure to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of girls and young women with disabilities often results in them being wrongly perceived as asexual.

“Girls with disabilities are often infantilised and robbed of the power they need to make decisions about their own lives,” said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International.

Girls with disabilities are often infantilised and robbed of the power they need to make decisions about their own lives.

“People view them in deeply unhelpful and distorted ways, failing to recognise that they have the same concerns around sexuality and relationships as everyone else,” Ms Albrectsen added.

“Particularly in developing countries, these misconceptions drastically reduce the likelihood of them receiving the vital knowledge and tools they need to keep themselves safe from sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.”

Comprehensive sexuality education required

In its report, Plan International is calling for all children with disabilities to be provided with comprehensive sexuality education so they can make conscious choices about relationships and sexuality.

It also calls for governments to eliminate the stigma and discrimination preventing girls accessing the services and information they need around sexual and reproductive health.

The report is being launched to coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December. The report also shines a light on the lack of reliable data about the number of girls with disabilities.

Invisible population of girls with disabilities

Aidan Leavy, Inclusion Specialist at Plan International, said “Because national census data typically does not break down the number of people with disabilities by gender, age or type of disability and because the stigma of disability often leads census respondents to keep quiet about children with disabilities, no one has any idea just how many girls with disabilities there are globally.”

“This is resulting in an invisible population of girls with disabilities. It has justified governments allocating inadequate resources to address their sexual and reproductive health needs.”

In some countries, national census figures indicate that people with disabilities comprise just 2% of the population, while other estimates for the same countries show numbers 8-10 times higher.

Plan International is calling for all governments to ensure the collection of accurate information on the sexual and reproductive health of girls with disabilities, ensuring disaggregation by sex, age and disability.

“They may not realise it, but girls with disabilities have the same sexual and reproductive rights as other girls and young women.” said Ms Albrectsen.