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Disabled Women's Reproductive Journeys

Engender has been awarded funding from the Tampon Tax Fund to undertake a project to work with disabled women to learn more about their experiences of reproductive and parenting services. This is one of the areas of work that was identified as an issue of concern in our Gender Matters in Disability briefing.

The Project

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The aim of the project is to find out about disabled women’s experiences when using reproductive and parenting services. In the past disabled women have told us that their experiences can be quite different from those of non-disabled women. This project will allow us the opportunity to speak to more women to find out about their experiences so that we can have a better understanding of the situation.

We will use the information that we gather to create a report that will be shared with policy and decision-makers that can make changes to service delivery that will improve the experiences for disabled women. Our report will highlight areas of good practice and areas where practice needs to be improved. We will make clear recommendations and policy asks that will be presented to professionals at roundtable discussions and at a national conference. Ultimately, we will be looking for a recognition of the challenges faced by disabled women and a commitment to make positive change.

Consultation Events

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So far we have held two consultation events, one in Edinburgh and Glasgow and have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear from the women that attended about their experiences. All the women that spoke to us were very open and honest in their contributions and all the Engender staff were impressed by their strength, warmth and support for each other.

We are still in the process of compiling the information which will inform the next step of the project but at first glance there are a number of recurring themes that will need to be explored further. Many women spoke of an attitudinal problem around disability and sex and a presumption that disabled women would not be sexually active. Similarly, a lack of appropriate sex education was highlighted as was the fact that services are not designed with disability in mind and that attempts to adapt an inflexible system can be frustrating and unfruitful. There were very real concerns expressed around the role of social work departments and the lack of support provided for disabled parents.

The women attending the events also shared their stories of how they had overcome the barriers that they had faced. Women are the best experts in their own lives and this was evidenced as we heard about women’s ingenuity in rising to their challenges. The women taking part in the discussions also helped us to imagine a perfect world for disabled women using reproductive services and to think of some of the practical steps that could take us closer to that as a reality.

Next Steps

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We will be writing a brief report from these consultation events and inviting other disabled women to share their stories and experiences with us. We will be contacting disabled people’s organisations to offer to visit any groups of women they work with to talk about the project and provide an opportunity for women to share their experiences with us. If you know of a group or individual that may want to be involved in the next stage of the project or if you just want to know more about the work we are doing please contact catriona.kirkpatrick@engender.org.uk.

Our Gender Matters in Disability briefing is available to read here, and in easy read format here. Listen to our Gender Matters in Disability episode of our On the Engender podcast, featuring interviews with disabled women from disabled people's organisations and politics, here.

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