Zoom conference: Establishment of the Initiative of Women with Disabilities for Advocacy of Sexual and Reproductive Rights

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The final online conference within the project Capacity Building of Women with Disabilities to Advocate for Their Sexual and Reproductive Rights, implemented by the Organization …IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in five cities in Serbia, was held on Friday, December 18, 2020.

The conference summarized the results of the activities undertaken in Raska, Temerin, Uzice, Vranje and Valjevo, after which the Initiative of Women with Disabilities was formed, which will continue to work on improving sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women with disabilities. The initiative consists of the team of the Organization …IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA and all previous participants in the project, and the coordination team is in the process of formation.

The conference was attended by representatives of UNFPA, Jovana Petrovic and Nevena Sovic. In front of the Organization … IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA, the conference was opened by Miladinka Mijatovic and moderated by Ivana Zelic. Translation into sign language was provided by Nina Baranovski.

Nevena Sovic announced a five-year work plan to improve the position of women in exercising sexual and reproductive rights and accentuated that in a year when everything was impossible, significant results were achieved, from mapping the barriers that women with disabilities face every day, through advocacy, to establishing a network to continue activities.

Drawing by Maja Jovic from Temerin

For Uzice, the sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities are a new topic, so the first step was to work on informing the women themselves and the wider community and media. The Association for Child and Cerebral Palsy from Uzice organized a round table with the participation of representatives of the city, health institutions, non-governmental organizations and associations of persons with disabilities. A presentation made by the project participants during a several months analysis of the context and situation in the field of sexual and reproductive rights and reproductive health of women with disabilities was presented.

A novelty in the area of health care is the establishment of the Health Council of the city of Uzice, within which the representatives of persons with disabilities are in charge of monitoring all important decisions and changes in that area. One of the important current problems is that the Uzice Health Center has a hydraulic gynecological table, but the ordination is not accessible for women with disabilities – said Ana Djokic in front of the Association for Children and Cerebral Palsy of Uzice.

In a small community like Raska, disability is taboo in itself; talking about the sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities is a double taboo.

Architectural barriers in Raska are ubiquitous. The gynecological ordination is cruel, not only for women with disabilities. Due to such (un) conditions, it is common for women to feel uncomfortable during routine visits to the gynecologist, and it does not have to be that way. It is not our job to pray, but it is the obligation of the local self-government to provide us with a human approach, respecting our dignity and bodily integrity – said Dusica Sretenovic in front of the Srna Association from Raska.

Members of the Srna Association organized a round table attended by representatives of local governments, the Protector of Patients and representatives of associations dealing with women’s rights. After that, the municipal council included the purchase of a hydraulic gynecological table in the budget.

The situation in Temrin was presented by Monika Zunji and Tanja Srdic, in front of the Kap Association:

We consider it a big step that we have opened the topic of sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities in general, we couldn’t even talk about it before. At the same time, we had the opportunity to share experiences and find out how teams from other cities approach the mapped problems. We learned a lot. We didn’t even know that there was a hydraulic gynecological table in Temerin, because it was located in an inaccessible ordination. We noticed the problem of intersectional discrimination of women with disabilities who are members of minority communities in Vojvodina. We made a short film about all the mapped barriers, which was presented to decision makers. They promised us support.

Pandemic thwarted the inclusion of more women in Valjevo, but good results have been achieved.

We succeeded to map most of the barriers, starting from architectural inaccessibility to inaccessibility of information and transportation. In the community and between decision makers, there is a lack of understanding for the topic of reproductive health protection for women with disabilities. Prejudices are noticeable, to the extent that this topic is taboo for a lot of people, so it is almost never talked about or talked about with contempt. As the pandemic was already in full swing, we were left with the final presentation in the form of a television show in which I was a guest with a doctor from the health center. She has experience working with women with disabilities, but she hasn’t thought about their challenges the way she thinks after our meeting. An agreement was reached for future cooperation. The health center is currently a Covid 19 clinic, which is why we cannot continue what we started immediately, but we will soon launch a campaign to purchase a hydraulic gynecological table. There are positive examples in private gynecological practice, but their services are not available to everyone for financial reasons – said Svetlana Jankovic Beljanski, an activist from Valjevo.

A team of women from Vranje prepared a short film about the reproductive health of women with disabilities and the barriers to which they are exposed on a daily basis.

– Obstacles are not only noticeable in the field of reproductive health and health care, obstacles are everywhere. This project gathered the strength of women’s organizations, we managed to do concrete things together. In the circumstances when the health care system was overloaded with the suppression of the virus, we didn’t expect any response or support. On the other hand, perhaps it was the pandemic that influenced doctors to hear us better. After the screening of the film, a round table was held with representatives of the city and the health center. Thanks to the research that preceded the making of the film, we gained a clear picture and knew exactly what we were looking for. The hydraulic gynecological chair was in the red zone of the Covid hospital, which was the first task. Another task was to organize preventive examinations for women with disabilities. We held working meetings with the heads of the health center and the hospital, in order to sign a memorandum of cooperation, in order to provide gynecological health services to women with disabilities. One week after the memorandum was signed, the practice of preventive examinations began – says Suzana Antic Ristic in front of the Committee for Human Rights in Vranje.

The conference concluded with an agreement on the establishment of the Initiative of Women with Disabilities for the Advocacy of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, which will initially function through a working Facebook group. The group will bring together all the materials created during the project, and the group will soon be open to the public and the inclusion of new members. At the same time, the participants of the project have the opportunity to become trainers for this area in the future.

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