Reproductive Health and Rights - women with disabilities in search of “a room of their own”

18 December 2020
Natali Bukia, Activist. Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA Georgia

“When members of our society hear about people with disabilities, the only thought that comes to their mind is, 'they are completely different from us and they can’t do what we can’. I do not deny that we do things really differently, but that does not mean we cannot do them at all.” – says Natalie Bukia, a wheelchair user who leads a socially active lifestyle. She has chosen to study Management and Social Sciences at university to be involved in processes that interest her and to become an agent of change and bring positive changes not only for herself but also for others, especially for women and girls with disabilities who often suffer from discrimination and unequal treatment.  

According to Natalie, stereotypes and barriers tend to be stronger and difficult to overcome when it comes to the sexual and reproductive health of women with disabilities. “Very few clinics are adequately adapted, whereas most of them are arranged in such a way that despite ramps and elevators in place, it is impossible to get services without the help of others, which causes a lot of inconvenience. One has to be accompanied by someone while paying a visit to the doctor. Besides, it is still a tradition in our country that you should be accompanied by a person who is older than you or by a family member when you visit a gynaecologist. The issue is further compounded in the case of people with disabilities. The environment does not allow you to receive services independently, protect your privacy or avoid embarrassment of being obliged to plan your visit through consulting with others of when to go to the doctor or why and for what reason”.  

Mariko Kobakhidze, an activist and a student. Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA Georgia

Mariko Kobakhidze, a person with a disability, an activist and a student, highlights the persistent problem of gender bias and stereotypes: “Women with disabilities are more often discriminated against than men and boys. We experience double discrimination in a number of areas because we are women and at the same time persons with disabilities. In order to end gender inequality, it is necessary to stop stereotypes and to review the applicable legislation or policy documents within the legal framework to reflect the needs of women and girls with disabilities.”

Mariam Mikiashvili, Deputy Principal of the Public School for Blind Children №202.
Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA Georgia

"There are many cases when doctors fail to take adequate account of health needs of patients with disabilities, misled by false perception that they cannot have sex, are unable to give birth to or raise a child, etc. In addition, a significant challenge is the inaccessible physical environment and infrastructure in health care facilities, as well as the equipment that is very difficult for women and girls with disabilities to use independently.” Mariam Mikiashvili, Deputy Principal of the Public School for Blind Children №202, who is involved in the process of empowering and educating adolescent girls with disabilities on a daily basis, highlights a number of important factors: “Women and girls with disabilities themselves have little knowledge about their rights and are unable to advocate for themselves. They often fall victim to stigma and stereotypes, both on the part of the community and their own families. This in turn has a negative impact on their health, and the ability to live an independent and fulfilling life. Girls need to be more aware of their rights, which will help them to build a strong sense of self-confidence and self-efficiency.” 

The Study on Legislative Analysis and Recommendations on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities with regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, published in December 2020 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia Office, covers all the issues that women with disabilities focus on in public or private conversations. The document aims to analyse the existing legal framework and to review state programmes to establish their relevance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The staff of the UNFPA Georgia Office believe that this document will facilitate the processes related to conducting a fundamental review of and making necessary amendments to the Georgian legislation and programmes through a number of proposed recommendations aiming at bringing the legal framework and programmes in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ensuring effective protection of sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls with disabilities.

 “We are pleased that today we are taking effective steps to ensure that women and girls with disabilities have access to services that are vital to them, that their rights are protected, and each of them lives a full-fledged life and a life of dignity. We cooperate with the state, as well as with the non-governmental sector and community activists, because we believe that it is the joint effort that will help us build a desirable society, which is more inclusive and equitable.” - said Lela Bakradze, Head of the UNFPA Georgia Office.

The study findings indicate that the existing legal framework, as well as policy documents and programmes, fail to take adequate account of the special needs and the level of vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities, and the issue of non-fulfilment of the obligation of ensuring access to health services,  information and reasonable accommodation remains one of the main challenges. Ms. Nino Mirzikashvili, a health expert and a co-author of the study, notes that “Women and girls with disabilities lack the opportunity to enjoy all available sexual and reproductive health services, on equal basis with others; they usually fail to receive the required medical care which meets the appropriate quality standards, and the situation is further aggravated by the lack of availability of qualified health workers and discriminatory approach displayed by them towards women and girls with disabilities.”

Ms. Lika Jalagania, human rights and gender expert and a co-author of the study, emphasizes the importance of the state taking into account the recommendations made on the basis of the findings of the study: “This document offers the relevant state agencies some specific ways to address the issues facing women with disabilities, at the legislative and policy level, which in turn are based on the core principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Consideration of the recommendations will make the legislative framework as well as specific programmes implemented by the state more sensitive to the needs of women with disabilities and will ensure more opportunities for women and girls with disabilities to access sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

The study was initiated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia Office, supported by the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) and implemented within the framework of the United Nations Joint Programme “Transforming Social Protection for Persons with Disabilities in Georgia.”