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5 Sexual and Reproductive Health Barriers for Persons with Disabilities

At least 1 billion people in the world live with a disability, according to the United Nations (UN). Consequently, persons with disabilities form the world’s largest minority group. Despite being entitled to the same sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs as persons without disabilities, Persons With Disabilities encounter various barriers to accessing related services and information.

Reproductive health in Kenya for PWDs | © Pixabay

Sexual health barriers for people with disabilities (Pixabay)

According to a UN report, 29 percent of births by mothers with disabilities are not attended to by a trained healthcare worker. The report also indicates that persons with disabilities are at a higher risk of unwanted pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). The report further notes that 22 percent of married women have an unmet need for family planning services.

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) affirms the need for special attention to the health rights of women and girls with disability.

Kenya's Persons With Disabilities population amounts to about six million, with at least 3.1 million women and girls. Unfortunately, the path to accessing Sexaul and Reproductive Health  services for women with disabilities in Kenya is marred by various barriers. Here are the five main ones:

  • 1

    Lack of Awareness

    The lack of awareness of disabilities in Kenya and the resultant stigma extends to the Sexual and Reproductive Health  of persons with disabilities. A good number of the population still consider women with disabilities as asexual. Some of the population also believe women with disabilities cannot bring forth life and nurture children.

    Consequently, women with disabilities are stigmatized for choosing to have sexual relations or reproduce. They remain targets of forced abortions, forced sterilizations, inadequate maternal healthcare, and discriminative menstrual hygiene practices.

  • 2

    Inaccessibility of Sexual and Reproductive Health  Information

    The majority of the information about sexual and reproductive health  is often not packaged in a disability-friendly manner. Materials meant to create awareness of reproductive health are often created without consideration for persons with disabilities. Sexual and reproductive health  materials are not readily available in large print, simple language, braille, or pictures. Thus, visually and hearing impaired persons are often left out, hampering their access to information. 

    For instance, condom packaging is only friendly to  persons without disabilities. Thus, a visually impaired person may not know how to use it properly, exposing them to improper use and subsequent risks.

  • 3

    Physical Inaccessibility

    Due to the mobility limitations of some disabilities, persons with disabilities often struggle to access physical places such as buildings or transport systems. Some hospitals do not have provisions to ease access for persons with disabilities. Thus, the majority of the persons with disabilities end up avoiding such places, which in some instances may be the only source of sexual and reproductive health  information and services.


    When a person with disability  manages to access a health facility searching for sexual and reproductive health  services, the hospital maternity wards and equipment, such as the examination beds, are unfriendly. Some are too high, leaving their accessibility troublesome for a person with disability. Weighing machines are designed for persons without disabilities, locking out pregnant women who use  wheelchairs.

  • 4


    There is a strong relationship between disability and poverty in Kenya due to ineffective policies to empower persons with disabilities. According to research by Aga Khan University, at least 67 percent of persons with disabilities in the country live in poverty.

    While antenatal and delivery services are free in public hospitals, long distances hinder women with physical disabilities, especially in rural areas. They may have to use a motorbike to access these facilities, an expensive venture they may not afford. Even for those in urban areas, the unfriendly public transport system is a hustle they cannot cope with.

    Due to poverty, some pregnant women with disabilities fail to attend their antenatal clinics. They only show up at the hospital at the onset of labor, risking their well-being and their young ones.

  • 5

    Exclusion of Persons With Disabilities  from Decision-Making

    Policymakers in matters regarding sexual and reproductive health  treat persons with disabilities as targets or passive stakeholders awaiting help and direction. Often, the policymakers have an outsider's view of the sexual and reproductive health  needs of persons with disabilities, resulting in ineffective policies.


The challenges notwithstanding, persons with disabilities  can still access effective and friendly sexual and reproductive health services. However, the relevant stakeholders need to address the highlighted challenges first. Some of the remedies include.

  • 1

    Creating Awareness

    Governments, policymakers, and related stakeholders should strive to create awareness regarding the sexual and reproductive health  rights of persons with disabilities. The sensitization should target the persons with disabilities, members of society, and healthcare professionals.


    The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) guidance note on promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for persons with disabilities  recommends a three-fold approach to creating awareness. The first approach is tackling the lack of knowledge about disability, which leads to assumptions. Another approach is fighting the stigma against persons with disabilities, which often leads to denial of information. Raising awareness of the sexual and reproductive health rights of persons with disabilities, respect, and dignity is the other approach.


    Adopting such approaches would ensure that the general population is aware of the Sexual and reproductive health  rights of women with disabilities, thereby promoting their inclusion and reducing stigmatization.

  • 2

    Promoting Accessibility

    Underlying the undermining of the sexual and reproductive health  rights of persons with disability  is the lack of accessibility to both information and physical inaccessibility. Improving access to information would help persons with disabilities be informed of their rights and the society at large. Improved physical accessibility, on the other hand, will ensure that persons with disabilities  have ease of access to facilities and equipment in hospitals.

  • 3

    Inclusion of Persons With Disabilities  in policy, budgets, and laws

    Decision-makers on matters regarding sexual and reproductive health rights need to engage persons with disabilities  in their decision-making to promote effective policies. Persons with disabilities  are the wearers of the shoe, and they know where it hurts the most. Their involvement would ensure that the policies, budgets, and laws reflect their actual needs.

  • 4

    Promoting Research on Sexual and Reproductive Health  of Persons With Disabilities

    The WHO/UNFPA guidance note acknowledges that there is little research on Sexual and Rrproductive Health of persons with disabilities at international, national, and local levels. The lack of this research means that policymakers and stakeholders approach the sexual and reproductive health  issues of persons with disabilities  blindly. Research into this field would allow for evidence-based interventions that would improve the sexual and reproductive health  of persons with disabilities  at all levels.

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