The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, hosts an annual conference on disability rights in an African context during the month of November. The inaugural disability rights conference was held in 2013. The conference acts as a platform for convening dialogue amongst key stakeholders on disability rights, and to spotlight the pertinent and emerging disability rights concerns in the African region.
This year’s theme is “Realising the Sexual and Reproductive Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the African Region: The Promise of Disability Rights Treaties”.
The aim of the conference is two-fold:
- to critically interrogate the intersection between the sexual and reproductive choices and aspirations of persons with disabilities and prevailing normative regimes at the domestic, regional or sub-regional level, taking into account human rights treaties, especially the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa; and
- to suggest remedial responses for addressing gaps and weaknesses in the fulfilment of the sexual and reproductive choices and aspirations of persons with disabilities. The conference will be held virtually on 16 – 17 November 2021. It is anticipated that papers presented at this conference will be reworked by authors and submitted for consideration for publication in the 2022 volume of the African Disability Rights Yearbook.
Even in jurisdictions that aspire to be progressive and protective of human rights, there is a marked reluctance to positively affirm the sexual and reproductive autonomy of persons with disabilities. Many jurisdictions sit with laws, policies and practices that deny the very notion of sexual and reproductive rights or condone their violation on account of an embedded inclination to treat persons with disabilities as asexual or even hypersexual, incapable of deciding about sexual relationships and unfit for reproduction and parenthood. Discrimination against the sexual and reproductive rights of persons with disabilities is more pronounced in respect of persons with intellectual disabilities.
Prejudice and ignorance are key factors in societal resistance against affirming the sexual and reproductive rights of persons with disabilities. Attaching the language of rights to the sexual and reproductive domain is generally frowned upon by jurisdictions that subscribe to cultural and religious discourses in thrall of patriarchy. The pervasive stereotypic assumption that persons with disabilities are asexual or ought to be asexual serves to exonerate dominant cultural discourses from the responsibility to hear the voices of persons with disabilities and develop responsive laws, policies and programmes. It leaves persons with disabilities without the means of acquiring knowledge about love, sex and reproduction though socialisation processes that enhance their physical, emotional and social wellbeing. It also serves to deny them access to the sexual and reproductive services they need.
It is not just prejudice and ignorance that are key to explaining societal resistance against affirming the sexual and reproductive choices of persons with disabilities but in many instances a paternalistic desire to provide protection to what is perceived to be a vulnerable social group.
There is abundant evidence to show that the risk of sexual violence and abuse towards persons with disabilities in their lifetime, is much greater than that of persons without disabilities. In General Comment No 3, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities took into cognisance that, compared to the broader population, women and girls with disabilities have a heightened risk of exposure to sexual violence, abuse and exploitation that is perpetrated within the family, household or community (Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities General Comment No 3 Article 6: Women and girls with Disabilities (2016). The Committee noted that forced or coerced contraception, sterilisation and abortion are among the sexual and reproductive harms that women and girls with disabilities have suffered.
Clearly, the goal of protecting persons with disabilities from harm is not just desirable but also necessary. However, it is important to ensure that social institutions, including the family, care institutions, laws and policies and the courts strike an appropriate balance between protecting the individual and giving recognition to their sexual and reproductive desires and aspirations. Protective domestic regimes should not become oppressive prohibitory regimes that foreclose the exercise of sexual and reproductive choices as they, on the whole, presently do especially for some groups such as persons with intellectual disabilities. More importantly, such regimes are hardly tenable under the rights-based framework ushered in by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which has received wide ratification in the African region. This argument also applies to the framework under Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (African Disability Rights Protocol) that was adopted by the African Union in 2018 but awaits ratification.
The CRPD and the African Disability Rights Protocol contain several provisions that can be used to advance the respect, protection and, ultimately, fulfilment of sexual and reproductive rights of persons with disabilities in the African region.
The conference seeks to bring together stakeholders interested in promoting the sexual and reproductive rights of persons with disabilities, including persons with disabilities, scholars, social scientists, policymakers, lawyers, human rights defenders, carers and providers of sexual and reproductive health services. The prevailing prejudice against affirmation of sexual and reproductive autonomy in the African region is partly a result of ignorance through lack of intersectoral dialogue among stakeholders. Not enough is known publicly about the sexual and reproductive lifeworld’s of persons with disabilities in the African region. The bulk of current research, published commentaries and activism on sexual and reproductive autonomy addresses the global north. There is a particular need to contextualise the experiences of the African region and bring them to the public domain for debate and exchange of ideas that speak to the locale rather than merely reproduce discourses from the global north.
Possible topics to consider
Topics of particular interest include but are not limited to the following:
- indigenous concepts of sexual and reproductive autonomy
- sexual access
- facilitating sex
- sexual minorities
- adolescent sexuality
- adult sexuality
- sexual violence, abuse and exploitation
- physical disabilities, sexuality and reproductive autonomy
- mental disabilities, sexuality and reproductive autonomy
- freedom to found a family
- responsibilities of parents
- responsibilities of care-givers
- responsibilities of health care providers
- responsibilities of educators
- courts and competence to exercise sexual choices
- courts and competence to exercise reproductive choices
- protection from violence and abuse
- Intersection with politics, culture and religion
As part of underscoring the importance of multi-sectoral responses and partnerships in the production of knowledge, we particularly encourage joint abstracts between scholars, policymakers and persons with disabilities together with their representative organisations.
A committee will review abstracts that are written in English, are 300 - 350 words in length and in MS Word format (not PDF).
Abstracts must include in a single document:
- Title of abstract
- Author’s name
- E-mail address
- Abstracts must be sent to Sabeeha Majid at the following email address firstname.lastname@example.org
- Submission deadline for Abstracts: 31 July 2021
Authors will be notified by 15 August 2021 whether their abstract has been accepted.
- Submission deadline for Papers: 31 October 2021
Authors whose abstracts are accepted will be required to submit their full papers by 31 October 2021.