By Nurse Alvin Cloyd Dakis, AYNLA. This was originally published on The Nightingale Chronicles.
One out of three deaf women and girls are raped and 65-70% of deaf children are molested according to the Philippine Deaf Resource Center (PRDC) – a Philippine NGO that conducts study on sexual violence among Deaf women for the past five years.
The Deaf community in the Philippines especially deaf women who comprised an estimated more than 121, 000 (NSO, 2000) belong to a subsector that experiences marginalization and other discrimination at the interesting planes of gender and (dis)ability. “Thus, the communication barrier that isolates them operates through complex multidimensional relationships and social interactions and barred them from accessing vital reproductive health information & services” said Dr. Liza Martinez, Executive Director of PDRC.
There were also several cases of rape & sexual abuse that were filed in courts but were either dismissed or never progressed because of the lack of skilled interpreters and professionals to help the deaf narrate or testify. Health professionals have hard time explaining & extracting data from the deaf because of communication barriers.
In their on-going research, PDRC administered survey on reproductive health to Deaf respondents in Cebu and Manila which included understanding of pregnancy, knowledge of contraceptives, awareness of sexually transmitted diseases, understanding of rape and sexual abuse, sex education, interest in learning about reproductive health, and sexual experience & abuse.
PDRC also made a preliminary analysis of selected informational print and multimedia materials on RH from the perspective of how Deaf friendly each material was done.
“There are many materials which are not deaf-friendly. We also lack experienced sign language interpreters to help the Deaf understand what those information means. Certainly there is a need for a reproductive health education in sign language” said Naty Natividad, a sign language interpreter and deaf rights advocate for more than 20 years.
The contentious and very much debated RH Bill in Congress does not just talked about maternal & child services, reduction of maternal deaths & childbirth complications, provision of contraception and teaching of age-appropriate sexuality education, it also caters to the need of the more marginalized sector of the society which also needs RH services & education – the Deaf community.
The RH Bill seeks to answer the concern of the Deaf community through the inclusion of Section 23 of HB4244 entitled Sexual & Reproductive Health Programs for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) which ensures that barriers to RH services for PWDs should be obliterated by the following:
(a) Providing physical access & transport to clinics, hospitals and where public health education is provided;
(b) Adapting examination tables & other laboratory procedures to the needs and conditions of PWDs;
(c) Increasing access to information and communication materials on sexual and reproductive health in braille, large print, simple language and pictures (even sign language);
(d) Providing continuing education and inclusion rights of PWDs among health-care providers; and
(e) Undertaking activities to raise awareness and address misconceptions among the general public on the stigma and their lack of knowledge on the sexual & reproductive health needs and rights of PWDS.
Comprehensive sexuality education is also extremely important to the Deaf as they have very limited to no access to it. Most of the deaf have very poor access to sexuality and reproductive health education. Even printed materials tackling RH, sexuality, HIV & AIDS seemed hard for the deaf to understand the concepts, terms and even the structure of its language. Sign language training for interpreters is also very critical in transmitting the messages.
The RH Bill concerns everyone and no one should be left behind in the country’s journey to having a Reproductive Health Law where the Deaf community and other marginalized sectors should be one of the major partners in achieving a good comprehensive reproductive healthcare program.
The Deaf community’s struggle to be heard of their sexual and reproductive health and rights should never be neglected and in the process of creating RH programs their concerns matter as much as those as the others.
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