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Working for change

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 7: Sexuality > Working for change

Changing community beliefs and attitudes about sexuality and the right to sex for women with disabilities can take a long time. But over time, they can change.

It is important for a woman with a disability to feel good about herself. A woman who values herself will be more likely to expect a partner to respect her.

What disabled women can do
  • Educate ourselves about sexuality and our own feelings.
a woman in dark glasses speaking.
Refuse to be in relationships with anyone who does not respect your dignity.
  • Talk with other disabled women or other women we trust to learn more about sexuality. Even if we did not learn about sex when we were growing up, we can always learn more now.
  • Advise each other on ways to understand and enjoy our sexuality.
  • Form or join a group with other disabled women to support and value each other’s sexual and family life.
  • Advocate to include disabled women in all education about sexuality.
  • Advocate for respect for the sexual needs of all women.
  • Find ways to express our sexuality and celebrate who we are as women.
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Disabled women in our community have been coming together to empower ourselves as women. Together, we are finding ways to express our femininity and sexuality. Some of us wear flowers in our hair or a bindi on our forehead. Sometimes we decorate our hands and feet with intricate henna patterns, wear anklets and jewelry, or have a ritual oil bath. All these things have helped us explore our sexuality and feel good about our bodies. We are learning to see ourselves as the kind of women we want to become.

—A group of women with disabilities from Tamil Nadu, India

What families and caregivers can do
a woman speaking.
Make sure women and girls with disabilities have the same chances to develop a full social life.
  • Treat a girl with a disability the same way other children are treated. This will help her grow up feeling good about herself, her body, and her feelings. When she grows up, it will be easier for her to have a loving, respectful relationship with her partner.
  • Support a girl during her teenage years when she is changing from a girl to a woman. If a girl with a disability gets good information about sexuality, is allowed to make herself look attractive, and does not face discrimination about the way she looks, she will feel good about her body and her sexuality, and her self-esteem will grow strong.
  • Make sure girls and women with disabilities are included in talks and ceremonies about sexuality and womanhood.
  • Support women with disabilities in their decisions about potential spouses and loving partners.
  • Do not arrange marriages for a disabled woman if the husband or the family expects extra money or presents to “make up for” the woman’s disability.
  • Encourage people in the community to see women with disabilities as women first, with the same sexual needs as all women, and to treat them with respect.
What the community can do
a woman using sign language.
Train women with disabilities as health workers to provide sex education for other girls and women.
  • Make sure women with disabilities are included and have important roles in community ceremonies about sexuality and womanhood.
  • Advocate for respect for the sexuality of all women and girls.
  • Adapt sex education programs to include girls and women with disabilities. For example, let blind women feel a condom and learn how to use one by touch. Use pictures and models to make learning easier for deaf women and women who have difficulty reading or understanding.
  • Watch out for disabled girls and women, especially those whose disabilities affect their learning and understanding. They are often more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Women’s safety is the whole community’s responsibility. For more information about helping women who have been abused, see Chapter 14.