Women with disability face extreme hardship in their sexual and marital lives.
In the African context, a girl child is looked at as an investment for future bride wealth that must be prepared for this purpose as early as possible. Indeed many young girls get married off in return for bride wealth that normally accrues to the parents. For the disabled girl however, the situation is often worse because there is usually no hope that she will get married. In this case, parents do not invest any efforts to prepare her for marriage because nobody thinks she is good enough for sex or marriage since she is disabled. Her disability devalues her womanhood significantly because a woman is valued in terms of how physically attractive she is and how much bride wealth she can fetch.
The misconception peddled about women with disabilities by society is that they are asexual, with no sexual feelings at all. In fact, many people think when a disabled woman engages in sex, the man involved is doing her a favor because ordinarily, she doesn’t deserve sexual pleasure. The truth however is that, disable women feel and yearn for sex just like any other woman, the only problem is that men are afraid of being seen approaching a disabled woman for fear of societal stigma. As a result, the sexual life of most women with profound disabilities are shrouded in secrecy.
Many of the disabled women have no regular sexual partners, while others actually miss out on sex through the socially acceptable avenues and this makes them very vulnerable victims of sexual crimes such as rape, defilement and incest. Where disabled women have occasional sexual encounters, they find it difficult to use some methods of family planning like pills, which have to be taken on a daily basis and as a result, they end up having unwanted pregnancies which only help to increase the burden of looking after too many unplanned children whose fathers have denied responsibility and support. When such responsibilities are factored against the already existing burden of coping with her own disabilities, the the plight of a disabled woman becomes really formidable.
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Culturally, women in Uganda and most parts of Africa often suffer mistreatment in their marriages at the hands of men who imagine that because they have paid bride price, they have the right to treat their wives like some kind of property. In the case of the disabled woman, the mistreatment she gets is normally from her own parents and brothers who continue to blame and even harass her for not getting married and enriching the family with bride wealth.
Where a disabled woman has formally got married, they often find their marriage life even harder since their husbands and in-laws expect them to do everything like a normal woman is required to do according to culture. For example, they will expect the disabled woman to fetch water, carry firewood, go to the garden and do heavy domestic chores for the relatives in her marital home regardless of her disability. Once she fails to do all these activities, then her life gets tormented in this marriage because her husband would be blamed by the entire clan for having married a “useless woman”
When a disabled woman goes out to seek reproductive health services like family planning, the personnel at such clinics wonder quite aloud what a disabled woman would like to do with a family planning pill since no men desire them. Such careless statements only expose disabled women to unwanted pregnancies since many disabled women fear approaching such clinics ever again for family planning advices. Many disabled women have also reported failing to get into the labor wards altogether because there are no ramps to let their wheelchairs in. For the case of deaf women, most maternity wards don’t have sign language interpreters, so a pregnant deaf woman cannot even communicate her problem to the health workers. As a result, many pregnant women avoid going to hospitals and other health centres for fear of being discriminated against.
Given all these problems that affect the personal lives of disable women, it can be said that their sexual and marital lives are most challenging.