Illustration: Athir Rahman
Share-net Bangladesh, a knowledge platform, organised the first discussion of its kind that focused upon SRHR (Sexual Reproductive Health Rights) for the disabled. It also shed light upon the need to create an inclusive approach to the underscored needs of SRHR for people with disabilities. One of the main outcomes from this meeting was the need to collaborate amongst organisations that work on the said topic and also advocate for the cause to relevant stakeholders.
Globally, many discussions have been held on SRHR on different contexts. However, in Bangladesh, focusing primarily on disabled people is still a new concept. Yet, when I observe a room full of activists and development practitioners rendering over diversity, a change is bound to take place.
Representatives from various development organisations were present during the meeting. Many of them belong to the disabled community themselves. Thus, they were able to shed light upon the subject matter based on personal experiences. A number of members stressed upon issues like the importance of inclusion, social stigma, physical barriers, discrimination, lack of advocacy, information rights and their needs and more. They also expressed the desire to speak for themselves instead of others doing it for them. The following is a list of some organisations who are working on SRHR for the disabled.
Turning Point Foundation
Turning Point Foundation strives for diversity, equity and inclusion for a sustainable development. The organisation has been named 'Turning Point' from the core believe that when faced with difficulties and disappointment - there is still scope to turn towards hope.
Jibon Gomes, Executive Director of Turning Point Foundation, says, “No matter what kind of disability we have, first and foremost, we are human beings and should be able to attain our fundamental rights.” He also points out the lack of adequate research, data and programs, along with the gaps present in government policies regarding SRHR of disabled people.
Center for Disability in Development (CDD)
It is estimated that 16 million people in Bangladesh are living with a disability, receiving little or no assistance and are excluded from mainstream life. CDD's mission is to address this by simultaneously educating the community on how to be more inclusive whilst also enabling people with disability to participate in society by providing them with essential support. In this way, people with disabilities can be given the same rights, freedom, dignity and quality of life as everyone else.
“Children with disability are tremendously vulnerable to sexual abuse,” said Anika Rahman Lipy, Assistant Director of CDD. Lipy talks about how the behavior of disabled children changes as they grow up and how after reaching puberty, undergo many emotional and physical changes that are often misunderstood and ignored by parents, elders and the society in general.
Women with Disabilities Development Foundation (WDDF)
WDDF was founded with an effort to home-grow a group of prospective women leaders with disabilities, so that they can advocate for the cause themselves.
Shirin Akhter, Chairman of WDDF, speaks about her personal experience while seeking for public health services. She has encountered ignorance and preconceived notions towards disabled people. “It puts them at a greater risk of facing sexual and mental abuse,” she says.
Global Platform Bangladesh
Global Platform Bangladesh is Action Aid's training hub that focuses on youth leadership, governance, campaigning and activism. In the “SDG and Youth” training, one of the participating groups' work focuses on “SRHR for Disabled People”. It will advocate and raise awareness through media sensitisation and social media campaigns. Group members Syeda Samara Mortada, Swarna Moi, Farah Moriam, Shimul Siddiquee and Shahida Akter Shorna are advocating for the cause, while trying to identify means of reaching the policy and decision makers. Samara stresses, “Although the government's 7th five-year-plan focuses on social inclusion, safety nets and education for disabled people, there is a dearth of SRHR inclusion when it comes to the disabled.”
Working for SRHR has now become recognised and is seen as an essential subject to ponder upon in the context of Bangladesh. However, when it comes to disability inclusion, there is still a great lack in awareness and of course, in implementation. To eradicate these, lobbying with policy makers and acknowledging the fact that disabled people also have rights, including SRHR, would help in solving the issue.
If you believe in equality for all, stand up for the rights of the disabled people. Wake up, take your stand!