Exploring the link between disability and sexuality is an untapped area. People living with physical disabilities are usually considered ‘asexual’, and their sexuality and basic physical needs are often overshadowed because their bodies and personalities are defined by their disability.
There is a gaping need for urgent narrative in the places where disability, sexuality, and gender coalesce. Aahung, with the support of the Youth Champion Initiative (YCI), organized the first such initiative in Pakistan, planning to generate awareness and enhance knowledge about the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) needs and rights of people living with physical disabilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability as ‘any restriction or lack (resulting from any impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.’ According to Waqar (2014), of the total world’s population approximately 15% or about one billion fit the definition of disability with a mild, moderate or severe nature, and about 93 million of these are children. In Pakistan, in the absence of a regular census or reliable data, approximate or projected numbers estimate that the total population of people with disability is approximately 5 million. The only thing people with disabilities have in common is being on the receiving end of societal misunderstanding, prejudice, and discrimination.
Disability and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are both themes less talked-about due to cultural norms and traditions that stigmatize the sexuality of people living with physical or any other kinds of disabilities. It prevents them from claiming their sexual rights, taking control of their reproductive lives, and lack of access to quality and appropriate SRHR information and education. Therefore, the SRH needs and rights of people living with physical disabilities remain un-addressed.
Aahung developed training modules on the SRH needs and rights of people living with physical disabilities, and user-friendly resource materials addressing their SRH needs and rights. The idea behind developing user friendly resource material was to have some kind of material that is understandable by everyone including those with visual and/or hearing impairment.
The user-friendly resource materials consisted of four animated videos on the pubertal changes of boys and girls, early age marriage, family planning, and prevention from sexual abuse. Besides being created in local and culturally-appropriate language, a special feature of these videos was that they were designed keeping in mind persons with various disabilities- the visual impaired, hearing impaired, and speech-impaired. Besides keeping the storyboard simple and illustrative and with subtitles, these videos were dubbed in sign language as well. For people with visual impairment, written content around boy’s and girl’s puberty were translated and printed in Braille format.
In order to effectively reach out to the target audience of people living with physical disabilities, and those who work with them, Aahung partnered with BINAE Foundation, ConnectHear, Center of Inclusive Care and NOWPDP. Aahung conducted a three-day capacity building training of 20 participants on sexual and reproductive health and rights of individuals living with physical disabilities. Those who attended the training were from diverse groups; abled, visually impaired and hearing impaired individuals from four different organizations. After the training all participants recognized the need to get SRHR education and access to services for people living with physical disabilities. Participants shared their personal experiences and described their hesitation in discussing SRH related issues with anyone prior to the training. After the training, their comfort level increased and they felt equipped with the appropriate language to discuss these matters. Moreover, participants did mention that the resource materials used during the training proved effective in understanding the importance of the issue; role plays and replication sessions helped in practical implementation of the learnt concept.
The trained participants from BINAE Foundation replicated the session within their institution with 64 visually impaired girls and boys, and the other master trainers will be replicating the training soon.
In addition to building the capacity of the trainers, awareness raising around SRH needs and rights of people living with physical disability was done through Aahung’s social media platform. Animated, user-friendly videos, dubbed in sign language on early age marriage and family planning, and prevention from sexual abuse was shared for general awareness. Through the social media campaign 67,336 people were reached throughout Pakistan. The special resource materials developed during this initiative are the first of their kind in the country. The Aahung team hopes others follow suit and the vast, disabled population in the country is able to derive benefit from better perspective of SRHR.