The disabled have a right to intimacy

Dr Christine Peta
Some people think non-disabled men who engage disabled women in intimate relationships are criminals who should be prosecuted. The reality is that the relationship choices do not have clear-cut explanations.

All disabled women who took part in a recent study carried out in Zimbabwe (Peta, 2016) reported that they make conscious choices about who they want to date or marry and for varied reasons.

That is not to say disabled women have not reported incidences of abuse, but that just like any other woman, disabled women make choices of partners, experience the joys and challenges of their relationships, marry, divorce, re-marry etc.

Mazvi is an eloquent former nurse who was working at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, but who now has mental disability but is employed elsewhere.

She narrates that she is going to marry her non-disabled partner Sango, and she has just been introduced to his family at his rural village in Gutu.

She recounted that judging from the comments people pass about her relationship with Sango, they think Sango is sexually abusing her because she has mental disability.

But she argues that just like any other woman, she has the right to be in a relationship with a man of her choice, and Sango — in turn — has a right to choose the woman he wants to be in a relationship with.

“To have mental disability does not mean that I am mad at every turn. Some things that I don’t like can trigger a mental relapse which may last for one day and if it’s really bad it can go for up to three weeks. It is only during such times that I may be unreasonable.”

Mazvi argues that the nature of her mental disability does not mean she does not know what she is doing all the time.

“Mental disabilities are different. I have mental disability but I am a professional who holds a job. I speak, write, dress and cook well and I am pregnant. My family tried to blame Sango and wanted to get him arrested for impregnating me, but I told them to back off, I am pregnant by choice.”

Mazvi says it is not right for families and communities to think for disabled women and make decisions for them on the grounds that they are disabled. Instead, they should discuss and understand each other.

“All they wanted to do was to rush and send the man that I love to prison. Why should Sango be arrested for loving me and why should he leave me to raise the baby on my own? Is it not this same baby who will look after me in my old age? I think some things that people do are senseless.”

Mazvi says when she decided to have a baby, she was not in any kind of mental relapse.

“If I have a good relationship with Sango and he treats me well and gives me a baby, why should people be angry? When I got pregnant all my faculties where in place, I am the one who did it, not them, so when I explain they should believe me.”

Natsayi, a blind woman employed by a local NGO, adds: “I don’t want to jump from one man to another. I want to get married and share my life with my husband. I burden my sisters because they run around for me. I think it is best I establish my own family and do things with my husband.”

Natsayi’s narrative indicates that there is no need to disregard her voice on the grounds that she is blind. She has the right to date or marry according to her choice. And in that vein she says although she is blind, she does not want to marry a blind man.

“My blind friend married a blind man, but I saw that it’s not good. They divorced when the blind husband got a good job and bought a car. He said he did not want a blind wife anymore but he wanted a sighted woman who could drive him around so that he could enjoy his life.”

In some instances where a disabled man wants to marry a disabled woman, his family may reject the woman on the grounds that she is disabled.

Zenzo says, “Both of us are blind, but when he took me to his family to introduce me they said, ‘we already have a blind person in the home so why should we have another one, our son should marry a sighted woman’.”

Some disabled and non-disabled men experience intense family pressure not to marry disabled women.

But why should women with disabilities not date or marry men of their choice? And why should men who date or marry disabled women be viewed with suspicion or be regarded as criminals?

Way forward

Men who genuinely choose to date or marry disabled women should not be viewed with suspicion or be regarded as criminals — as if disabled women are lesser humans.

To be disabled does not mean that a woman should be barred from engaging in intimate relationships of her choice.

In addition, to be disabled does not mean that one suffers from severe brain damage. Most disabled people can make their own relational choices and decisions.

Some disabled people wish to have their own children, alongside a belief that the children will take care of them in their old age. What is wrong is for men to take advantage of the relational and motherhood desires of disabled women and abuse them.

Families and communities should be willing to acknowledge, embrace, discuss and support intimate relationships of persons with disabilities.

Instead of trying to stop them from engaging in intimate relationships, the focus of families and communities should be to seek to draw the line between adults who consent to have relationships and those who are forced to do so, and in either case to deal with the resultant challenges (Warner et al, 2004).

Prosecution ought to be sought of offenders who abuse disabled women in a context where proper and thorough investigations need to be carried out. Listening to the voice of disabled women in spite of disability is of utmost importance.

Dr Christine Peta is a public healthcare practitioner who, among other qualifications, holds a PhD in Disability Studies. Be part of the international debate on how best to nurture a society which is more accessible, supportive and inclusive of disabled people. Partner with Disability Centre for Africa on www.dcfafrica.com or [email protected]

She argues that modern, hidden polygamy demeans women and also places them at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Dr Nzenza concurs with Dr Rebecca Chisamba, a fellow social commentator and columnist for The Sunday Mail Society, who says if you give men an inch they will take an ell: given the excuse they will continue taking more wives.

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