girls stop going to school. Others are sterilized--their ovaries
removed. Still others are confined to homes, isolated from the
community. Worldwide, the most basic human rights of women and girls
with disabilities are curtailed because of poor management of the most
natural human phenomenon: menstruation.
May 28, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations will celebrate the
first-ever Menstrual Hygiene Management Day. Around the world,
countless women and girls with disabilities face stigma, often lack
awareness, and may have difficulty in moving, dressing, or using the
cost is high: girls with disabilities often drop out of school once
they reach puberty because there are no support services in school to
help them during their period and the toilets are often not accessible
example, in Nepal, where children with disabilities make up 85% of the
out-of-school population, an NGO worker told us about the case of a girl
with learning disabilities: "When the girl's menstrual cycle began, she
had blood on the bench. Her friends teased her and the teacher beat
her. From the next day, she didn't come again."
out of school is not the only life-altering consequence of the stigma
surrounding the menstruation cycle of women and girls with disabilities.
Many women and girls with disabilities are subjected to a more
invasive, permanent, and irreversible medical procedure - sterilization.
This should not be a method of menstrual management and yet it is
forced on many. Women and girls with intellectual disabilities are
robbed of the opportunity of starting a family without their consent,
and at times even without their knowledge. Forced sterilization has a
profound physical and psychological effect.
adequate support services, many parents and caregivers decide to
sterilize women and girls with intellectual disabilities because they
are unable to cope with menstruation or fear that they may be at higher
risk of sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies. One mother of a
15-year-old girl with an intellectual disability living in India told me
in 2013, "I have thought about sterilization.... Even pretty girls are
raped, would they leave this kind of girl?"
such a decision is never easy for parents, it often has little to do
with the woman's well-being and more to do with social factors, such as
managing the burden on caregivers. One mother living in India told me
about how she got her 31-year-old daughter sterilized. "The operation
can lessen her burden. If we can't manage her ourselves, how can others?
We didn't ask her if she wanted the operation.... She was angry the
next day - she knew something had been done to her. I told her that the
doctor had given her an injection, and she started crying."
A basic human function like menstruation should no longer be a
justification for denying women and girls with disabilities their basic
should no longer be a barrier to education, to independent reproductive
choices and bodily integrity, or to freedom from inhuman and degrading
treatment. It should no longer inhibit women and girls with
disabilities' right to dignity.
grave human rights abuses can be avoided by providing adequate support
to women and girls with disabilities during menstruation. They should
have the right to be, simply, women.