SRHR and Women with Disabilities: Advancing Gender Equality in the ASEAN Region

June 1, 2016 IMG_8652

Achieving sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is integral to attaining gender equality, and ultimately to sustainable development. However, SRHR issues of women and girls with disabilities are often missed out in public discourses, policymaking, and programming. At the same time, disability organisations themselves may not always focus on gender and SRHR issues, thereby hampering their ability to be strong advocates on these issues.

To address this gap, ARROW and CREA, in collaboration with the ASEAN Disability Forum (ADF), conducted a workshop on Advancing Gender Equality of Women and Girls with Disabilities, with a specific focus on SRHR, in Hanoi, Vietnam from 18-20 May 2016. Sixteen activists and leaders from the women with disability movements from seven countries in the ASEAN region—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam—actively participated the workshop. Apart from the participants, this workshop was also attended by sign language interpreters and personal assistants for some people with disabilities; they were also expected to actively participate in the workshop.

The workshop was co-facilitated by Arpita Das of ARROW and Meenu Pandey of CREA who steered conversations around gender and sexuality, gender and sexual identities, issues of bodily integrity, sexuality specifically with respect to people with disabilities and advocacy. Maulani Rotinsulo and Saowalak Thongkuay of ADF facilitated a session on barriers experienced by women with disabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was also discussed during the course of the workshop. In order to make the training accessible, two sign language interpreters were engaged to work with two deaf participants, materials were available in print and soft copy (screen reader friendly documents) for visually challenged participants, and verbal descriptions of most visual material were made available.

Group exercises such as body mapping, quizzes, and buzz groups ensured lively interaction throughout the three days. Integral to the programme were daily film screenings and discussions of carefully curated films and documentaries on sexuality that focus on people with disabilities or have been developed by people with disabilities—Accsex, Dance Me to My Song, and Margarita with a Straw.

ADF, CREA and ARROW

ADF, CREA and ARROW

The training resulted in better understanding among ADF members on basic concepts of gender, sexuality, and SRHR, which is crucial to any national or regional level work being done by ADF members. It also increased their knowledge of the links of the UN CRPD with gender, SRHR and sexuality issues, thereby strengthening their capacity to use this for advocacy in advancing gender equality for women and girls with disabilities. Lastly, it also strengthened inter-movement collaborations between the disability movement and women’s sexuality and SRHR movements, which hopefully will continue.

Some of the feedback received from workshop participants:

“I will be using the learning from the training to spread further information on CRPD and SRHR”.

“I think I should learn more about SRHR. I will read the resources shared in this training and also share them with my community”.

“Sexual identity, gender expression and gender identity are three new concepts I learnt at this training. I will use some of the exercises from the training in my work”.

“I will share with my community of girls and women with disabilities that they have rights to decide what they want to improve themselves”.

ARROW was also involved in a previous training on SRHR and advocacy with the ADF that was organized by CREA in 2015. Arpita from ARROW participated as a trainer, along with Janet Price and Nidhi Goyal, both disability rights activists. During this training, members of ADF developed a response to the post-2015 outcome statement highlighting that persons with disabilities were not well represented in the sustainable development agenda.