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Kigali, Rwanda

Promotion of Reproductive health rights


Reproductive health encompasses a whole spectrum of rights and services. It includes: user friendly youth family life information and contraceptive services, child spacing, safe delivery, breastfeeding /infant young child nutrition, cancer and male involvement.


On all fronts, women and girls who are deaf have their rights violated. The barriers that girls and young Deaf women face to fulfilling their sexual and reproductive health and rights are further compounded by the levels of their deafness and education – the higher the degree of hearing loss and illiteracy levels, the greater the risk of exclusion and abuse. There are no service providers who comprehend sign language hence the deaf cannot express their feelings/experiences understandably. Without this, it is impossible to have proper diagnosis and service provision. Information about various reproductive health matters said verbally during health education sessions is missed by persons who are deaf. Signing on TV is typically during news bulletins and a few programmes considered important. As a consequence, many girls who are deaf end up with unwanted pregnancies.


When it comes to contraceptive use/child spacing, women/girls who are deaf are often forced to take up contraceptive usage. This is with or without their consent. RNAWD team has encountered a girl who is deaf and was forced to undergo tubal ligation (permanent contraceptive method). This happened after she conceived a third time against her family’s wish.  The parents and siblings felt as a girl who is deaf, she cannot bring up a child properly. They also had a mindset that no man would marry her and what made matters worse was that she had conceived with a different man this time round.


There are known cases where girls who are deaf have been raped or lured into sex by family members like cousins. In one case, the biological father repeatedly raped the girl eventually turning her into a regular sex partner. This is blatant abuse of a girl’s sexual rights and leads only to scorn, stigma and misery all her life. Sadly, very few cases of rape and other sexual abuse incidents get prosecuted successfully. The majority of women who are deaf are hindered from accessing justice due to communication, physical and financial barriers. In any case, they may lack the money to get transport and travel to the nearest police station. At the police station, the desk officer often times has no sign language skills and will not record the details.

Even with the help of an interpreter, the police officer may interrogate the victim condescendingly. This makes her feel worthless and responsible for what happened. The same attitude is portrayed in court again demotivating the victim from pressing the case further. It is common for local leaders to suggest an out of court settlement. Denial of access to justice remains a harsh reality for women with disabilities especially those who are deaf.


Whilst no screening /studies have been done to establish the prevalence of cancer (Breast, cervical and other forms), there is circumstantial evidence to suggest it is high. Cancer can be caused by non-effective management of UTIs/STIs both which are common amongst women.

It should also not come as a surprise that deaf women contract HIV. This is due to lack of information. Those who end up with AIDS get little support again because of barriers in communication.


The biggest concern in reproductive health matters is the non-involvement of men in family health promotion. Many men are not receptive to getting involved in reproductive health efforts of their partners. Even when the health worker requests the woman to ask her husband to come along next time for couple counselling or treatment of STIs, the man is likely to refrain. This becomes a barrier to a woman receiving the best services. She may progress from a preventable condition to a serious medical condition because of the man’s apathy.

A woman who is deaf particularly has much resistance from a partner. Men who have relationships with deaf women tend to shun them in public. Most family life education for youth is taught in mainstream schools, leaving learners who are deaf ignorant of societal norms and etiquettes.

RNADW has in the past promoted access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services – made more critical by the rise in gender-based violence during the pandemic – by girls and women who are Deaf and hard of hearing in line with CRPD Articles 6 (Women with disabilities), SDG 3 (Good health and well-being), and Rwanda’s GDS18 commitment on women and girls with disabilities.

strengthening community structures to mitigate the underlying issues that lead to violation of deaf girls and women rights. Research will be undertaken regularly to generate evidence for policy advocacy. The evidence will be used to advocate for policy formulation/review.

Volunteer change agents have been recruited, trained and facilitated to monitor risks and harms, prevent violations from occurring and effectively manage cases where they occur. It is also deemed important to carry out training of various stakeholders in sign language. This should facilitate improved service delivery in schools, within the justice-law-and order sector (JLOS) as well as health facilities in the target areas.

Much more awareness and activism will be done during each year’s 16 days’ activism period which kicks off on November through to December 10th.  


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