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


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 KRUGAVOJVODINA 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 KRUGAVOJVODINA 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 KRUGAVOJVODINA, 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.