Knowledge is power

Most girls and women with disabilities are denied their right to sex education
Her Body Her Rights: Drawing by a participant in a sex education workshop, Ethiopia

On the occasion of International Women's Day on 8 March, Light for the World draws attention to the sexual rights of girls and women with intellectual disabilities. In most societies around the globe, the sexuality of people with intellectual disabilities remains something of a taboo. This holds especially true for girls and women.  A recent study conducted by Light for the World in Ethiopia shows that 

  • women and girls with disabilities are often seen as asexual beings
  • their demand for sex education is denied consciously and unconsciously
  • the lack of knowledge negatively impacts the health and well-being of these women and girls
  • many development organisations are not aware of the issue.

A non-issue?

Sexuality of disabled people is a-non issue in Ethiopia. Women with intellectual disabilities are considered infertile or asexual. Their access to sex education, contraception, hygiene items, and HIV / AIDS testing is therefore among the least things on people's minds. That situation also increases the risk of sexual violence, as perpetrators assume that their victims do not have HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, girls and women often do not know how they can protect themselves. According to the World Bank, women with disabilities are up to three times more likely to become victims of sexual violence than women without disabilities. Western societies have traditionally approached the subject with considerable problematic ideological baggage of their own, with the fatal heritage of social darwinist and eugenicist ideas still holding sway in some parts of society. Here, reproductive rights above all else are still threatened.

Empowerment through knowledge

Knowledge, as they say, is power. Empowerment is urgently needed to strengthen the women's and girl's self-confidence and resilience. As a first step, Light for the World has produced Her Body, her Rights, a study detailing our experience and that of our local partners in providing sexual education to girls with intellectual disabilities. The study aims to fill a problematic gap: even though a majority of women with intellectual disabilities worldwide are living in economically deprived regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, their specific needs and experiences have so far not been investigated in enough detail. It will also serve as an important building block in rolling out sex education projects, integrated with our community based rehabilitation programmes, in our partner countries.