Call for Papers

RHM 49 – Disability and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

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The forthcoming issue of RHM, which is produced in partnership with CREA, and co-edited with Janet Price and Renu Addlaka, is aimed at shedding light on the population of people with disabilities, focusing on their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). This is a subject that is slowly emerging from a private world of neglect and exclusion into public discourse and policy.

More than 15% of the world’s population are affected by disability, which include physical or sensory impairments, intellectual disability, as well as psychosocial disability. While persons with disability have equal rights and sexual and reproductive desires and hopes as non-disabled people, society has disregarded their sexuality and reproductive concerns, aspirations and human rights. The topic of SRHR has also been largely overlooked by the disability rights movement and neglected in policy, planning and service delivery by social, health and welfare services.

Within this thematic issue, we intend to provide an arena for original research, personal experiences and critical analyses that address the current situation and future potential in sexuality and SRHR of people with disabilities. The issue will concentrate on three areas:

1. Rights, justice and aspirations of people with disabilities

Sexual and reproductive health and rights of people with disabilities continue to be contested, and there are particular concerns in relation to women with disabilities. Analysis of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) negotiations demonstrates how rights were downgraded to focus on family life, resulting in no mentions of sexuality, sexual integrity or agency, or non-heteropatriarchal approaches and identities. However, debates and campaigns are emerging, recognising people with disabilities as sexual beings with equal rights to aspirations for sexual desire, intimacy, love, relationships and sexual and reproductive choices. Activism has resulted in positive movement at regional level, although in negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals, it achieved limited impact. There is a need for analysis of the success and failures of activism in relation to policy creation and its implementation. Societies are moving at different rates in recognising SRHR of people with disabilities. As people with disabilities gain increasing agency and control in other areas of their lives, it is essential to understand the context and outcomes of demands for choice over sexuality and relationships and how these emerge in relation to diversity and equality in the struggle for personal freedoms and a better quality of life.

2. Inequitable structures and access

Access is a complex process, dependent on multiple factors and hampered by poverty, stigma and discrimination, inaccessible environments and communications, and absence of meaningful engagement of people with disabilities in decision making and service delivery. Neoliberalism and austerity measures also impact access to personal and institutional SRHR resources, a careful examination of which is highly warranted. War, ongoing conflict and environmental disasters further cause instability, and result in an increase in the numbers of people with disabilities. For women, disability often means being suddenly displaced, excluded from a life of femininity, partnership, active sexuality and often denied the opportunities for motherhood. In the context of refugees and displaced populations, people with complex impairments may be left behind without support. In this context, vulnerability increases the levels of sexual violence towards both women and men, resulting in sexual and reproductive trauma —an unacknowledged form of disability —that cause stigma and isolation. These are crucial, yet rarely debated challenges in the respect, protection and fulfilment of SRHR.

3. Personal experiences, identity and intersectionality

Prejudice around disability and sexuality have resulted in poor documentation of local and cultural factors that shape personal shame and construct challenges in developing sexual confidence and establishing relationships. There is limited research on how cultural attitudes affect people with disabilities in search of sexual relationships, desire to express sexual orientation and gender identity, the negotiation of which is almost always counter to collective norms of heterosexuality, marriage and family.

While sexual violence towards people with disabilities is moderately well documented and human rights violations in this regard are well recognised, crucial analysis of personal context and gender dynamics, including the dynamic between disability and feminist activism, are limited. There is little data about interactions and alliances across movements around disability and sexuality rights despite the emergence of coalitions, courses and research developed transversally in various regions, initiatives that have a growing global reach.

Call for Papers – What and When?

For this issue of Reproductive Health Matters, we are inviting articles that contribute towards building a knowledge base that can inform policy and practice and offer a better understanding of the connection and intersection of SRHR and disability. We welcome analytical pieces, critical perspectives and contextual analysis on SRHR of people with disabilities, addressing the broad outlines given here. We encourage original research articles, and policy and human rights analysis and we will consider reviews, commentaries, viewpoints and critical perspectives. Submission of photo or video articles illustrating positive dimensions of the topic is encouraged. We warmly welcome narratives from people with disabilities, as well as contributions from low- and middle income countries and from activists and actors promoting SRHR for people with disabilities.

Across these areas, we welcome analytic approaches to discursive strategies of change related to the subject. Apart from that already outlined, other potential topics include:

  • What are people with disabilities’ experiences of: pleasure and managing violence; establishing relationships and fulfilling their SRHR; challenging prejudice; and negotiating the influence of intersectional factors, e.g., shared disability, gender, ethnicity, and educational status?
  • Between who and where are relationships established by people with disabilities, how are these experienced, and how do they vary socio-culturally and from the human rights perspective?
  • What are the responses to the desire for comprehensive sexuality information, sexuality education and services, including sexual assistance for people with disabilities?
  • How is the exclusionary power of shame exacerbated and accompanied by violence in times of crisis and shifting socio-economic power, e.g., elections, coups, war, economic crisis?
Submissions accepted between 1 October and 30 November 2016

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**Please carefully read submission guidelines before submissions.


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