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Does The Govt Recognise Sexual Rights Of Persons With Disability (PwD)?

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Written by: Nikita Ghodke

Sexual rights are often misunderstood to a limited understanding of one’s right to sexuality. These human rights also include freedom, equality, privacy, security, etc. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) defines sexual rights as follows:

“Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognised in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents. They rest on the recognition that all individuals have the right — free of coercion, violence and discrimination of any kind — to the highest attainable standard of sexual health; to pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life; to have control over and decide freely, and with due regard for the rights of others, on matters related to their sexuality, reproduction, sexual orientation, bodily integrity, choice of partner and gender identity; and to the services, education and information, including comprehensive sexuality education, necessary to do so.”

Why It’s Important To Talk About Sexual Rights Of Persons With Disability (PwD) In India

Persons with Disability (PwD) are looked at with stigma because of disability narratives go unheard. The misconception around PwD being asexual has shaped barriers in accessing sexual rights. It has, in turn, caused a lack of knowledge around their right to sex education, sexual identity, sexual expression and sexual orientations. The need to access these rights helps not only understand their physical needs, but overall fulfilment of emotional and social well-being. The right to information to their sexual rights also provides them sexual safety, and empowers and helps them report sexual violence.

While there is limited literature review on sexuality and disability in India, studies have shown that disabled womxn and girls are at a higher risk of sexual assault. In an article by Scroll, Malini Chib, a disability rights activist, said, “My cousin Shonali Bose made a film called Margarita with a Straw. This film was inspired by me, but it is a fictitious story in which the disabled protagonist, Laila, falls in love with a woman and has a fling with a man. The film ends happily, leaving the audience excited that Laila is alone and discovering herself. I love the film it has its triumphs and storms that are unrelated to me. It is hugely relevant in today’s world, particularly in India.”

She added,

“In real world, sex and a disabled body do not mix. We disabled folks have other important things to think about, don’t we? Like, how do I stop spontaneous drooling? How do I say a word without slurring? How do I relieve myself in a restaurant that not only has a cramped toilet, but where the toilet is inaccessible… Where is the time to think of sex or intimacy? Right? Wrong. If you are a sexual person, craving intimacy is something that’s a part of you. You don’t have to consciously think about it. Do you need to be told to think about sex? Well, neither do we. So what if our hands and legs don’t move as yours do, or we can’t see, or we use wheelchairs, or we can’t hold a hand even if we do get a hand to hold? You see, people forget that the most sexual organ in the human body is the brain. If it is intact, I believe that we will think of sex, whether we want to or not.”

The word ‘sexual right’ written in different languages. Image has been provided by the author.

Conclusion

A report submitted by the Disabled People’s International (India) and its partners to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in September 2013 highlighted in an article by Mint says, “Almost 80% of women with disabilities are victims of violence and they are four times more likely than other women to suffer sexual violence.” 

The article also highlighted, “Sex education programmes for the disabled have, by and large, targeted the mentally disabled who are regarded as particularly vulnerable to sexual victimisation due to difficulties in general understanding and social judgment. But it is not only the mentally disabled who require special sex education programmes, writes Addlakha in ‘A Training Manual for Professionals Working with Adolescents and Young People with Physical Disabilities’ (2005).”

However, the Rights of a Person with Disability Act (2016) does not define or use the word ‘sexual rights’. It indirectly incorporates protection against violence, abuse, exploitation, personal liberty, etc. Accessing sexual and reproductive rights in India is a major issue and those with disabilities face a larger issue with access to basic rights that gets violated or ignored by society.

Featured image credit: UNFPA

Another major problem with access is language barrier – with Hindi being the national language, most of the documents are written and accessed in English. In India, around 30% of the population speaks and understands English, while the rest are not very fluent in the language and speak and understand different regional languages.

With linguistic barriers, India battles with another problem of reaching out to a vast population with an imbalance of providing the basic right to information in context majorly with sexual and reproductive rights.

Featured image credit: UNFPA
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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