Nigerian with hearing impairment (deafness) especially women and girls obviously suffer a silent misery. This condition which has really affected their reproductive health makes it pertinent to challenge the perception about the deaf as well as amplify the campaign for better healthcare accessibility for them. ENE OSHABA writes
Many women and women with disabilities across the globe today are standing up for their rights to make decisions for their lives, health as well as prevent Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
However, it is unfortunate that deaf women who also have the same Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) as other women and women with disabilities are often faced with barriers to information and services and negative attitudes of society who regard the deaf community as unfit or abnormal to make informed decision about their lives, health and well-being, hence the society decides for them.
According to the Deaf Women Aloud Initiative (DWAI), People living with hearing impairment in Nigeria “currently live in obscurity and derivation” .
For Women and Girls especially, one of the most serious obstacles preventing their full participation and integration into the society particularly in accessing maternal health services has been a major challenge.
While girls with hearing impairment are being raped for their inability to scream for help, the married and pregnant ones stay longer at hospitals due to the lack of sign language interpreters and the language barrier between them and the health workers.
In a bid to finding lasting solutions to the so many challenges deaf women face is accessing healthcare, the Deaf Women Aloud Initiative (DWAI) organised a Deaf Inclusion Summit on Tuesday in Abuja.
It’s Executive Director Mrs. Hellen Anurika Beyioku-Alase, said the summit was borne out of the need to create more awareness, raise consciousness about deaf people issues and improve access to healthcare and employment for most especially their women.
She highlighted the importance for all to embrace and recognize sign language culture, stressing that this would improve on the services delivery for the deaf community.
Just like everyone in the society, deaf women long for adequate healthcare delivery, most of them women and girls find it difficult to explain themselves at the facilities whenever they visited one, this situation has led to the death of many deaf women, humiliation from healthcare providers and spending longer hours at the facility.
“To maintain one’s sexual and reproductive health, people need access to accurate information, safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception methods of their choice,” said Beyioku-Alase the DWAI ED.
“Deaf women must be informed and empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, and when they decide to have children women must have access to services that can help them have a fit pregnancy, safe delivery and healthy baby.
“Every individual has the right to make their own choices about their sexual and reproductive health,” she added.
The DWAI ED, amidst all pending challenges lauded the Mohammadu Buhari led federal government for its efforts in signing the Disability Act into law, adding that private organisations too are increasing their efforts to alliviate the consequences of poor accessibility and social Inclusion for individuals, families and the society at large.
She however expressed concerns that people who are deaf and hard in hearing are unlikely to benefit from policies and programmes intended to address the problems.
“Available data shows that deaf people are more likely to face difficulties utilizing common sources of information than their hearing counterparts. They also encounter communication barriers in all facets of life because the society and individuals cannot fully communicate with them.
“It is so unfortunate that deaf people have remained less represented in social, economic and political arenas die to weakness associated with Nigeria policies or complete lack of non-gender sensitive policies, lack of economic capacity, cultural limitations and domestic burdens and clan based representation system that does not make adequate provision for people who are deaf, ” she decried.
She further maintained that the Nigeria Disability Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) stipulates and mandates all state parties to to recognise the rights of persons with disabilities including Deaf Women and girls to access Professional sign language interpretation in all facets of and facilitate their accessibility to reproductive health rights.
“The right to access SRH information and services and the specific need for Empowerment of women with disabilities was emphasised,” she said.
Call to government
Beyioku-Alase called on government to take the lead in bridging the communication gaps between the hearing and the deaf people.
“Despite all giant steps, a lot still needs to be done to make deaf Inclusion work as well as sensitize the society and non- government organizations about the importance of deaf Inclusion with sign language and ensure that the content of discrimination against persons with disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 yield the best outcomes,” she stressed.
Speaking during the summit, the Secretary of the Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) FCT chapter Agbo Christian Obiora, lauded the creation of a Disability commission by the government, urging that government should ensure that all Ministry’s, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s)to understand their roles and responsibilities within the act and ensure that they comply with it’s provisions.