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Rights of disabled women undermined

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Engender, disabled women, women's rights, contraception, parenting, report, Our Bodies Our Rights, conference‘We hope this report is the start of a conversation which will lead to real change’.

Disabled women still face huge barriers in the realisation of their rights in Scotland when it comes to sex, reproductive health, parenting and parenting support, a new report just launched has said.

In 2017, feminist policy organisation Engender received funding from the Tampon Tax Fund for a project researching disabled women’s experiences of parenting and reproductive health services in Scotland.

The resulting report is divided into four key areas: Parental Rights; Training and Education; Reproductive, Sexual and Maternal Health; and Violence Against Women

The two-year project run by 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 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.

Some of the issues disabled women said they come up against include:

A lack of accessible information and communication about services, procedures and more;

Stereotyping from professionals that disabled women don’t have sex and should not be mothers;

A lack of accessible infrastructure – buildings, signage and transport to services are not accessible, and there is also a lack of accessible equipment available;

Working with professionals who are not understanding and do not listen to their needs; and

Being worried about having their children taken away just because they are a disabled parent.

Where disabled women have had positive experiences with reproductive health and parenting services in Scotland, this has often been down to an individual staff member going above and beyond to provide good support.

Otherwise, support was highly inconsistent, from individual to individual and from region to region.

At roundtables with service providers, consistency – not just in service provision, but training and available resources – was indeed the word of the day, and work to improve on this formed a part of the recommendations in the final report.

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.”

To read the full report, click here.

You can listen to an audio version here.

For Twitter remarks on and repsonses to the conference, click here.

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