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Disabled women’s reproductive rights routinely ignored

Disabled women still face huge barriers in the realisation of their rights in Scotland when it comes to sex, reproductive health, and parenting support, says a new report launched today. A two year project run by feminist policy organisation Engender, along with disabled people’s organisations and academics, has revealed that disabled women do not receive sufficient education, support or freedom to make informed choices about their reproductive lives.

Launched at a conference today in Edinburgh, the report highlights the undermining of disabled women’s rights which is caused by poor or non-existent sex education, lack of training for practitioners, failures in reproductive, sexual and maternal health services, and pervasive abuse and violence faced by disabled women. Throughout the project, women spoke of facing negative assumptions and stereotyping, the unfounded removal of children in to care, forced terminations or sterilisation, and infantilising treatment all of which impacted on their ability to make decisions about their relationships and family life.

Read the report here, and an Easy Read version of the report here.

You can listen to an audio version of the report here.

A supplementary report with the findings from our focus groups is here.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister for Equalities and Older People Christina McKelvie MSP said:

“All women have a right to good sexual and reproductive health care – achieving this is a key aspect of gender equality being reached, but we won’t achieve this unless all women, and this must include disabled women, receive quality care.

Disabled women have the same right to be sexually active as every women and so we must ensure that access to appropriate services, including family planning, sexual health, and abortion healthcare is available on an equal basis as for all women”

Sally Witcher, CEO of Inclusion Scotland said:

“The failings of services when it comes to meeting disabled women’s reproductive rights reflect highly discriminatory attitudes towards disabled women. Too often it is assumed disabled women are asexual or that they cannot or should not be sexually active. They are seen as incapable of caring for their own children, just because they themselves may be the recipients of care and need support. Not only are these assumptions completely unfounded, they amount to a denial of our humanity as well as our rights.”

Joan Irons, a member of the project advisory group representing People First, an organisation working to support people with learning difficulties to have more choice and control over their lives, said:

“The project is important because women should have full control over their bodies; they should be proud of their bodies and not made to feel ashamed. The way forward is for all women to have information, advice and support to take decisions about their own bodies and lives.”

Catriona Kirkpatrick, who coordinated the project, said:

“We knew anecdotally that disabled women’s reproductive rights were not being realised in Scotland – at events and workshops with women around the country, Engender regularly heard women express the fear they felt of having children removed into care due to negative assumptions around disabled women’s ability as mothers. This project allowed us to look further into this issue and explore what services and institutions can do to improve the lives of disabled women in Scotland. We hope this report is the start of a conversation which will lead to real change. ”

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