A very significant area of concern for women with disabilities is the issue of sexuality and marriage. Indian society with its emphasis on flawlessness, has failed to recognize the universality of these fundamental needs and sees people with disability as asexual, encouraging the suppression of their sexuality.
Non–people with disability have far too often assumed, wrongly, that women with disabilities are not sexual beings. In addition, societal standards equate their identity as women and as sexual beings by their physical appearance and their desirability to men alone. Both these factors affect how women with disabilities perceive their sexuality.
In a country where wheelchair accessibility is still non–existent, the hearing impaired still cannot communicate with the hearing world and technology has helped very few visually impaired to see, there are many areas in the world of the disabled which are not even visible. There has to be the need to increase public awareness on a more personal level. Equal rights imply equality in the bedroom. It is really quite simple. Sex is sex and people are people.
However, women with disabilities in general have not had opportunities to explore their sexuality. Anxious parents who have devotedly cared for their disabled children, through theirs early years, are often baffled when it comes to coping with the difficulties of adolescence. To protect their child, they ignore the aspirations which they feel can never be fulfilled and feel worried by signs of sexuality. Socialization for sexuality leans clearly towards the restrictive end of the continuum, with more permissiveness for boys. Chastity for girls is considered an essential virtue.
This desire leads to a complete de–sexualization of the disabled, especially girls. Further, it pressurizes mothers to guard their disabled daughters from sexual abuses, which can come from within the home. Paradoxically, many mothers feel that it is better to have girl children with disabilities, as the containment of sexuality in boys is extremely difficult.
Conflicts are often resolved by trying to marry them off. In fact, the only viable solution in India seems to be an arranged marriage, which is quite the norm. This is more so for people in the middle and lower socio–economic strata of society. Marriage is clearly a family affair, which emphasizes partnership for a lifetime, but also provides a link to successive progeny. In this setup, the ability of the disabled to get married is seriously hampered. In fact, the presence of a disabled sibling affects the chances of other members of the family (because disability is regarded as shameful), thereby causing resentment towards the disabled person within the family. Gender matters again as women suffer more, as their chances in the marriage market are far lower due to their disabilities. Consequently, the constant worry is, “To whom will my daughter get married? How will she face problems? How will I get her extra dowry?”
Even if marriages can be arranged, they are with many compromises. With a belief system which teaches that marriage is for life, especially if as a disabled you have been fortunate enough to get a partner, getting out of this miserable situation is next to impossible.
The fundamental idea guiding this behavior is the notion of ‘Kanyadaan’ through which a daughter at her marriage is given away as a “Gift” to her husband and his family, and therefore becomes “Parai” (the outsider). The operative notion is that they are a burden, and once the burden has been given away, there is no possibility of going back to the parents. The roots of abuse at the hands of in–laws are very clearly embedded in these cultural notions.
Within such a context, it is hardly expected that women would develop any understanding of their condition. Even if they do not lack an understanding of sexual functions, they may not be able to fully express their needs. They always experience a degree of shame and embarrassment in these crucial areas of life. It is thus important to understand that everyone born on this Earth eventually becomes a sexual being. As such, it is time that everyone started to develop a healthier and more positive outlook towards sex and a sense of their own sexuality. The universal need to love, be loved and to make love is what makes humanity what it is.