Kanchelskis Ropi, 23, is a Law student at Great Zimbabwe University. She attended the Amplify Change Network of Zimbabwe National Dialogue on access to Sexual Health and Rights services and information where youth researchers presented their findings to the parliament portfolio.
Young people, particularly those living with disabilities, face challenges in accessing youth-friendly Sexual Health and Rights (SRHR) services and are often treated harshly by service providers when they try to access these services.
Disability increases young people’s’ vulnerability. Their inability to physically access health care leaves them susceptible to HIV/STI infections, pregnancy and even sexual assault in cases where long distances have to be covered to reach the nearest health facility.
In instances where they are able to physically reach these areas, they are subjected to the negative attitude of some health service providers. In one incident described by a young Restless Development researcher from Bulilima and Mangwe, a nurse asked a disabled person taking part in the research why they needed condoms. Young people with disabilities are treated as asexual and their exclusion from health promotion activities and health services render them as more vulnerable.
There are no interpreters for deaf young people in most clinics and hospitals in the country. Some hospitals require them to find interpreters at their own expenses, which makes sexual health and rights services and information unaffordable.
Sexual health information Health services, advertised and published for the benefit of the public, hardly reaches the blind. There are no materials that are disability-friendly in these health centres.
During a discussion facilitated by Amplify Change through a consortium of 7 partners -Restless Development, Elevation Zimbabwe, Youth Advocates Zimbabwe, Youth Aspire Development Trust, YES Trust, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe Youth Council – youth researchers from Plumtree, Harare, Chitungwiza and Mutare were able to present evidence of this wide and deep neglect towards young people living with a disability, following a study they carried out in their areas.
The young researchers shared the experiences they encountered during the research. They also shared their findings and presented a position paper on their asks to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee.
Youth researchers presenting their findings
What the young researches asked for:
Firstly, positive discrimination; where a national census for disabled individuals is done separately, leading to their own budgets being drafted by government and policymakers. This is all in an effort to ensure their needs are addressed and catered for.
Secondly, they called upon their inclusion and participation in planning and decision making on sexual health and rights issues which affect them. Everyone deserves the right to be informed on the right decisions over their reproductive health.
The high cost of living and increase in the number of young people who are unemployed makes them unable to pay required minimal fees at hospitals. The young people suggested that these fees be removed so that sexual health and rights services become affordable and accessible to everyone.
Policies and laws which speak to sexual health and rights exist in Zimbabwe, however, they are not fully implemented. These include the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Strategy, Eastern and Southern Africa Commitments on SRHR and Sustainable Development Goal 3 target 7. Zimbabwe is also a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international rights treaty advancing the human rights of persons with disabilities. This treaty has been hailed as a landmark in the quest to reframe the needs of people with disabilities.
A legislator, addressing the “asks” presented by the youths during the dialogue.
The state also has a mandatory obligation on section 29 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which is the supreme law, to ensure the provision of basic accessible and adequate health services throughout the country. Section 22 of the constitution specifies that the state must make sure people with disabilities’ rights are recognized and respected in the same way as all other citizens.
In response, the legislators promised to make efforts to ensure comprehensive sexual health and rights are taught from as early as primary school and to address negative attitudes of health care providers through advocating for training on disability and youth-friendly services.