Recovering bodily autonomy for people with disabilities in Kazakhstan

NUR-SULTAN Kazakhstan – “All women, regardless of their disability, have the right to decide whether they want to have a child, how many children and how often,” said Lyazzat Kaltayeva, president of the Shyrak Association of Women with Disabilities in Kazakhstan.

Yet this right is regularly violated and these violations are seldom reported. Recent studies show that only 0.5 percent of all women with disabilities in Kazakhstan become mothers, and their abortion rates are 8 times higher than those without disabilities. These numbers are believed to reflect serious barriers to sexual and reproductive health services and information, which may be due to physical barriers, not being supported in communicating their needs, or being unable to communicate with others. ignorance of their own fundamental rights.

Another contributing factor is the lack of information that women and girls with disabilities receive about family planning or how to protect themselves from an unwanted pregnancy, for example, because society perceives them as incapable of making their own. own choices. Women with intellectual disabilities in particular are often told not to have children, and many are subjected to forced sterilization, abortion or the use of contraceptives against their will.

Actors of change in disability and gender equality

In an effort to correct these dire statistics, the Shyrak Association has partnered with UNFPA to help women and youth with disabilities in Kazakhstan freely decide if, when and how many children to have.

Educational material accessible in formats such as braille, audio and with sign language interpretation ensures that their rights are clearly communicated and that options for essential services are available.

Trainers from the Shyrak association give a course on sexual and reproductive health and rights to young people with disabilities. © UNFPA / Kazakhstan

The Shyrak association has also launched a new school for independent living project that trains young people in reproductive rights and health. Speaking of the changes she sees happening, Ms Kaltayeva said: “We see how attitudes are changing, with an awareness of the rights of people with disabilities and their own responsibility for their lives and the health of their offspring. The graduates of our schools have since become parents and created their own thriving family units. “

Shyrak’s initiatives firmly place bodily autonomy at the center of their mission, combating sexual and gender-based violence and promoting the human rights of women with disabilities to make their own decisions about their bodies, health and motherhood.

Highly vulnerable to isolation, stigma and prejudice, girls and boys with disabilities around the world are up to three times more likely to experience physical, sexual and emotional violence, with girls being the most at risk. Young women and girls with disabilities have the least access to prevention, intervention and support services, making them even more vulnerable to sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies.

“We regularly see people discriminated against because of their disability and their gender. They have little or no control over their own lives or over decisions about their sexual and reproductive rights – these decisions are made by other people, by family members or by medical staff, ”Ms. Kaltayeva, who believes that the collaboration between the association Shyrak and UNFPA will make valuable progress in the fight against this injustice.

A happy couple with baby
Graduates of the School for Independent Living project. © UNFPA / Kazakhstan

Your body, your health, your choice

The pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities, gender discrimination and gender-based violence, including for women and girls with disabilities. Under these conditions, protective measures and information on sexual health are needed more than ever.

“There is always a demand for this type of information, said Saltanat Tleukenova, librarian at the Republican Library for the Visually Impaired. “Due to the lockdown, we are allocating two hours per reader. We already have people lining up to read the braille book on reproductive health and rights. Even I found a lot of useful information in the post for myself.

December 3 is recognized as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. For UNFPA, this is an opportunity to raise awareness of the rights of all to access sexual and reproductive health services and information, and to live free from violence and discrimination in all spaces.

Society and decision-makers must recognize that people with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else, ”Ms. Kaltayeva stressed. “Their voices deserve to be heard.

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