TIRED of constantly being labelled as objects of pity, ridicule and incapable of leading sexually gratifying relationships, people living with disabilities are taking the bull by its horns through sharing their own relationships and sexual experiences.
Lindiwe Sibanda, a 40-year-old transcriber and proof reader based at the Zimbabwe Council of the Blind offices said because of her visual impairment she had not enjoyed her previous relationships with members of the opposite sex.
“It has always been hard for me to lead normal relationships with able bodied men because they get condemned by their friends and family for dating me. The friends would always question how I am able to satisfy my boyfriend since I’m visually impaired,” said Sibanda.
The mother of two said women like her are stigmatised more than their male counterparts when it comes to sex and relationships.
“The majority of us don’t have the self-esteem or confidence to negotiate a desired role in a relationship compared to men. I think society in general overlooks the needs of women living with disabilities compared to our male counterparts. For example, parents of disabled children would rather send a disabled boy to school and not the girl and that leaves disabled women disadvantaged,” she said.
Sibanda believes that while society expects a disabled couple to get along well, she experienced the total opposite in her previous marriage to a disabled man. She is now in a relationship with an able bodied school teacher.
She compared her past marriage to a life in hell as a result of the torment at the hands of her in-laws.
“My ex-husbands’ family never accepted me. They wanted someone who was not disabled, someone who could assist in working in the fields and other household chores,” she said.
To add salt to injury the ex-husband’s family would not afford the couple time for intimate moments.
“The most painful part is that when we were in our bedroom looking forward to enjoying sex, my husband’s relatives would constantly barge in seeking to discover how we managed to have sex since we were both disabled,” she added.
Zifa Moyo, who uses crutches for walking and works at the Zimbabwe Council of the Blind, also shared a similar plight to that of Sibanda.
Narrating her ordeal Moyo said her husband had to cut off ties with his family which firmly disapproved of the marriage. Even people not related to the couple seemed to have qualms with the marriage.
The husband is able bodied.
“My husband once told me that our landlady often asked him if I had a normal private organ. The landlady assumed that my disability translates even to my private organ. So one day when I was bathing she came to our cottage with the sole intention of looking at my private organ and even went as far as asking how I performed in bed,” said Moyo.
Moyo bemoaned the perceptions of society on persons living with disability.
“Generally we are described as people who lack sexual feelings. We are also deemed sexually inadequate because of disability. The sad thing is that these are misconceptions and I don’t know how long it will take for people to understand that we can enjoy sex just like any other normal person,” she said.
Clemence Mupasi (ABOVE), a married father of two who is visually impaired said the stigma against disabled people goes beyond their sex life.
He narrated how an insurance broker with a local insurance company quizzed him about his children and marital status when he wanted to fill insurance forms.
“The insurance broker repeatedly asked me if I really had a spouse and children. I ended up asking her if she wanted a practical demonstration to prove that I am capable of fathering kids. I told her that I do not need eye sight in order to engage in sex, after all most people engage in sexual activities in the dark or under blankets,” said Mupasi.
Tendai Siguthi, a teacher at a Chinhoyi school of children with mental challenges said he advised his pupils to be confident with their bodies.
“I encourage disabled people to refrain from speaking through a veil of sexual shame. They should not be embarrassed to articulate their pleasures and desires. My duty as a teacher is therefore to ensure that my students embrace their sexuality regardless of disability,” said Siguthi.
According to Dr Obadiah Thembani Moyo, the president of the National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe, disabled women were the most affected when it comes to sustaining relationships.
“We have very unfortunate situations where disabled women are ridiculed for falling pregnant when they visit health institutions.
It has been reported that the disabled women are questioned by health professionals on why they fall pregnant in their state of disability,” said Dr Moyo.
He called for the country’s legislature to enact laws that make it illegal to discriminate against persons living with disability.
“Negative attitudes and discrimination against persons with disability calls for local parliament and government to enact laws that guarantee the social participation and integration of persons with disabilities and make it illegal to discriminate against disabled people,” he said.