It’s time to ensure the rights of people with disabilities to sexual and reproductive health. Here’s where to start

November 2022

One in five women has a disability, yet women and girls with disabilities have been consistently neglected in sexual and reproductive health policies and programmes.

That’s why Sightsavers, along with our partners, are attending the International Conference on Family Planning to highlight to governments, donors, global health agencies, NGOs and others the crucial importance of recognising and prioritising the rights of women and girls with disabilities in sexual and reproductive health, including family planning.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are human rights that everyone is entitled to. Yet people with disabilities are often denied these rights because of overwhelming discrimination when trying to access services, including contraception, safe abortion and counselling for sexual health and wellbeing.

Accessing services is challenging because of the inaccessibility of health centres and because SRHR information is often shared in formats that are inappropriate and inaccessible for people with visual and hearing impairments and people with intellectual disabilities. It is also often because of stigma in society, with communities, families and health workers seeing people with disabilities as asexual and believing myths that people with disabilities do not have sexual desire or engage in sexual activity and so do not need to access such services and information.

Jennifer Williams.


Jennifer Williams is global advocacy manager at Sightsavers

About Sightsavers

The other side of the coin

Improving access to services and tackling this stigma and discrimination is crucial, but it is vital that those working in sexual and reproductive health also realise and acknowledge the opposite side of the coin. People with disabilities often face coercion and pressure to take up services, with women and girls with disabilities conversely being at a significantly increased risk of forced sterilisation, coerced abortion and manipulation to take contraceptives, including long-acting methods like implants.

This is sometimes linked to false and discriminatory beliefs and concerns that people with disabilities should not become parents or that they would inevitably give birth to children with disabilities. Tackling these myths and upholding people with disabilities’ rights to have control over their own bodies, fertility and sexuality should be a priority rather than an afterthought for all actors working in sexual and reproductive health.

So what should NGOs, donors and governments be doing?

Firstly, and most crucially, listening to the voices of people with disabilities. We are calling on actors working in sexual and reproductive health to work with us to make sure that people with disabilities are consulted and included in the design and delivery of all programmes and policies.

The aim should be to mainstream disability across all sexual and reproductive health. We want to see a commitment from NGOs, donors and governments that a certain percentage of all programmes and budgets are spent on sexual and reproductive health focused on disability inclusion.

“Putting people with disabilities in front is the top priority. How to speak about the changes that they want to see is also important and practically also to get the policymakers and the health care providers in the same room, so that you can hear from people with disabilities.”
Joy Shu’aibu, director of programme operations, Sightsavers Nigeria

Secondly, we want to make sure that this commitment and investment in disability inclusion focuses on access to and information about services, including contraceptive services, for people with disabilities rather than trying to ensure their use. We think all actors should be aware of the coercion and pressure that people with disabilities can face. We know that women with disabilities want to make their own informed decisions about their bodies and whether they want to use contraception or other services rather than feeling coerced into doing so. It’s all about choice.

Finally, we call on governments to ensure that laws and policies are passed and implemented that specifically recognise the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people with disabilities. We want to see disability inclusion mainstreamed across all policies and plans around sexual and reproductive health and gender as a priority. Without making sure that people with disabilities are not left behind, the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved and Universal Health Coverage will be impossible.

“The sexual and reproductive health and rights of people with disabilities have been ignored for too long. If we are serious about leaving no one behind, now is the time to act – investing adequate resources, generating quality evidence, and ensuring people with disabilities in all their diversity are meaningfully included in the health sector and within their communities.”
Andrea Pregel, global technical lead for inclusive health, Sightsavers

Inclusive Futures’ Inclusive Family Planning project

The aim of Inclusive Futures’ Inclusive Family Planning (IFPLAN) is to ensure people with disabilities, and particularly young women and adolescent girls, have equitable access to quality, affordable and inclusive primary health services, including family planning. The initiative combines a series of system strengthening interventions aimed at mainstreaming disability inclusion within the local health sector. Demand generation and social and behaviour change approaches are aimed at equipping people with disabilities to have better knowledge of their rights and where to access services, if and when they decide to use them.

Working with Lafiya (FCDO’s flagship health portfolio programme in Nigeria), the IFPLAN project will also support organisations of people with disabilities to carry out advocacy activities and influence the planning and delivery of inclusive sexual and reproductive health services in the region.

Inclusive Futures’ inclusive family planning project in Northern Nigeria is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), is led by Sightsavers and BBC Media Action, in partnership with the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) and the Network of Women with Disabilities (NDW), and works closely with the Nigerian Primary Healthcare Development Agency. The project further collaborates with the Lafiya programme led by Palladium.

To find out more about our recommendations and what we do, take a look at our sexual and reproductive health page. And to learn more about the work we’re doing as part of Inclusive Futures to ensure disability inclusion in family planning, follow us on @Sightsavers_Pol.

Julius and Najiba stand outside their home in Uganda with their two young children. Julius is holding a white cane.

Be inclusive: sexual and reproductive health

All sexual and reproductive health services need to be inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities as part of the global commitment to Universal Health Coverage.

Learn more about SRHR