image of a women with disability (sitting in a wheelchair) looking towards a panel of women. There is a tote bag next to her, with the caption 'I love family planning'
Panelists Floridalma and Rahinatou along with her interpreter during the We Lead Session in ICFP Youth Preconference.

Bodily Autonomy & Sexuality: Young women with disabilities speak out

Young women with disabilities speak out on sexuality and bodily autonomy at the International Conference on Family Planning in Pattaya, document Mickey Andeweg and Jimena Cascante Matamoros.

Conversations around sexual health and bodily autonomy frequently exclude women with disabilities. This week, the We Lead program is present at the International Conference on Family Planning in Pattaya, Thailand. During the Youth Pre-Conference, four young women with disabilities from Niger, Guatemala, Jordan and Honduras shared their experiences and statements on what needs to change. 

Image of a dark skinned woman wearing a headscarf, smiling at the camera. She is the woman who has shared the previous quote on sexuality and bodily autonomy.
Rahinatou Moussa Souna, Community of Action Facilitator for the We Lead Program, Niger.

I contracted polio when I was two months old. In Niger, having a disabled person in your family is considered a divine curse. Despite this stigma, my parents gave me special attention by installing their values in me. Having grown up with a disability, society did not expect me to go to school. But my parents insisted on my education and I worked twice as hard as anyone else.

Rahinatou Moussa Souna, who runs the We Lead program in Niger

Lack of access and bodily autonomy

“When it comes to family planning, women like us are not consulted, most family planning services are simply not accessible to women with disabilities. Disabled women are not allowed or expected to have sex. In most cases, partners will be chosen for them in forced marriages, usually with men who also have disabilities or who are considered “less”, what families consider equal to these women.

Rahinatou Moussa Souna

Floridalma Raxtun, who works for the We Lead program in Guatemala, explains how the program reaches out to young women. ‘We Lead has allowed us to expand our work to more rural areas.’ As an indigenous woman with a disability, she knows best how to reach her community. ‘We provide workshops on topics such as menstruation and sexual and reproductive rights. We start our work with the concept of self love. First, we address issues of societal norms of beauty. From there, we lead the conversations into topics on reproductive justice.’

Families keep us in a bubble, they keep us infantilised and they don’t understand that we also grow up and fall in love. Women with disabilities are seen as children. They don’t see that we are also looking forward to those things in our lives.’

Keylin Ivani Escalante Vargas from Colectiva Mariposa 88 HN in Honduras.
Image of a women with curly hair, looking into the camera and smiling. She is the woman who has shared the previous quote on sexuality and bodily autonomy.
Keylin Escalante, from Colectiva Mariposa 88 HN, Honduras.

Time for change.

Similar stories and barriers are experienced in Jordan. Rawan Barakat, explains how physical and speech therapy are very expensive in the Jordanian context. Quality services can cost between 2000 and 4000 dollars per month. With her movement the IBNI Campaign, Rawan is urging the government to offer these services for free. After the former Minister refused a meeting to receive their petition, IBNI Campaign mobilized their support base and sent more than 10,000 messages to the Minister’s phone. After this, he agreed to meet with them. 

Forced sterilization of women with disabilities is a human rights violation the We Lead program sees across different regions. In Jordan, doctors can make this decision without consulting the women. In Honduras, emergency contraceptives are forbidden by law. Young women are forced to carry out pregnancies, even if they are abused. Sterilisation is seen as the only option in many families.

‘We are fighting to make emergency contraceptives available for everyone. It will be difficult, but we are in this together.’

Keylin Ivani Escalante Vargas

We Lead will continue its efforts to put young women at the centre of the conversation on family planning and SRHR.

It shouldn’t be someone else speaking for us, it should be us at the table.

Floridalma Ruxton
image of a woman in a wheelchair staring at the camera and flying -- in front of a poster that says 'free to be me'. This is followed by a quote on sexuality and bodily autonomy.
Floridalma Raxtun, from Colectiva Mujeres con Capacidad de Soñar a Colores, Guatemala

We Lead is an innovative and far-reaching program that aims to strengthen the influence and position of young women whose sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are neglected the most. It targets young women and adolescent girls who: live with HIV; face vulnerability and discrimination; live with a disability; and/or are affected by displacement. We Lead is a five-year program, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Consortium partners are: Positive Vibes, Restless Development, Marsa, FEMNET, the Central American Women’s Fund, and Hivos as lead party. M&C Saatchi World Services is our technical partner.


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Bodily Autonomy & Sexuality: Young women with disabilities speak out

by Jimena Cascante Matamoros Reading time: 3 min