Skip to main content


  • Seema Sharma (a1) and Muthusamy Sivakami (a1)

Global estimates suggest that over a billion people live with a disability that is significant enough to affect their daily lives. According to the 2011 Indian Census, India alone has about 26.8 million people with disabilities. Research suggests that persons with disabilities (PwDs) in India are among the most neglected, stigmatized, poor and least educated of the world’s population, and women with disabilities in India are the most marginalized, both socially and economically. They bear the triple burden of being discriminated against through being ‘women’ (socially marginal beings), ‘disabled’ (incapacitated, inefficient and undesirable) and ‘women with disabilities’ (the weakest of the weak), often becoming socially invisible. Although there has been a general recognition over the years that the educational and employment opportunities of PwDs in India need to be improved, their sexual needs and aspirations, sexuality concerns and sexual and reproductive health and rights have been largely ignored. The objective of this paper is to highlight the paucity of research on the sexual and reproductive health concerns of PwDs, particularly women, in the Indian context using existing literature on India, and to identify the possible reasons of this neglect. The study describes the obstacles faced by PwDs, particularly women, to acquiring good sexual and reproductive information and services, based on the results of empirical studies. Given the lack of research on this in India, the evidence largely comes from studies conducted elsewhere in the world. Lack of information and education about sexual health concerns, physical and/or infrastructural inaccessibility, judgemental provider attitudes, limited provider knowledge about disability issues and individual factors, including inhibitions about seeking health care and financial barriers, are identified as factors inhibiting the sexual and reproductive rights of people with disabilities in India.

Corresponding author
1 Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
Addlakha, R. (2007) How young people with disabilities conceptualise the body, sex and marriage in urban India: four case studies. Sexuality and Disability 25(3), 111123.
Ahumuza, S. E., Matovu, J. K., Ddamulira, J. B. & Muhanguzi, F. K. (2014) Challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health services by people with physical disabilities in Kampala, Uganda. Reproductive Health 11(1), 19.
Altuntug, K., Ege, E., Akın, B., Kal, H. E. & Sallı, A. (2014) An investigation of sexual/reproductive health issues in women with a physical disability. Sexuality and Disability 32(2), 221229.
Anderson, P. & Kitchin, R. (2000) Disability, space and sexuality: access to family planning services. Social Science & Medicine 51(8), 11631173.
Barua, A. & Kurz, K. (2001) Reproductive health-seeking by married adolescent girls in Maharashtra, India. Reproductive Health Matters 9(17), 5362.
Basson, R. (1998) Sexual health of women with disabilities. Journal of the Canadian Medical Association 159(4), 359362.
Becker, H., Stuifbergen, A. & Tinkle, M. (1997) Reproductive health care experiences of women with physical disabilities: a qualitative study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 78(12), S26S33.
Bhatia, J. & Cleland, J. (1996) Obsteric morbidity in South India: results from a community survey. Social Science & Medicine 43(10), 15071516.
Cheausuwantavee, T. (2002) Sexual problems and attitudes toward the sexuality of persons with and without disabilities in Thailand. Sexuality and Disability 20(2), 125134.
Decker, M. R., Seage, G. R., Hemenway, D., Raj, A., Saggurti, N., Balaiah, D. et al. (2009) Intimate partner violence functions as both a risk marker and risk factor for women’s HIV infection: findings from Indian husband–wife dyads. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 51(5), 593600.
Frohmader, C. & Ortoleva, S. (2013) The sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls with disabilities. In ICPD International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014, pp. 1–18.
Ghai, A. (2002) Disabled women: an excluded agenda of Indian feminism. Hypatia 17(3), 4966.
Ghosh, N. (2016) Impaired Bodies, Gendered Lives: Everyday Realities of Disabled Women. Primus Books, Delhi.
Ghosh, R. (2001) Intention not to use contraception: a comparative study of northern and southern states of India. Demography India 30(2), 261280.
Government of India (2011) Disability in India – A Statistical Profile. Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, New Delhi.
Groce, N. E. (2005) HIV/AIDS and individuals with disability. Health and Human Rights 8(2), 215224.
Groce, N. E., Yousafzai, A. K., Dlamini, P., Zalud, S. & Wirz, S. (2006a) HIV/AIDS and disability: a pilot survey of HIV/AIDS knowledge among a deaf population in Swaziland. International Journal of Rehabilitation Research 29(4), 319324.
Groce, N. E., Yousafzai, A. K. & Maas, F.V.D. (2006b) HIV/AIDS and disability: differences in HIV/AIDS knowledge between deaf and hearing people in Nigeria. Disability and Rehabilitation 29(5), 367371.
Habib, L. A. (1995) Women and disability don’t mix!’ Double discrimination and disabled women’s rights. Gender and Development 3(2), 4953.
Hall, M. A., Stephenson, R. B. & Juvekar, S. (2008) Social and logistical barriers to the use of reversible contraception among women in a rural Indian village. Journal of Health Population and Nutrition 26(2), 241250.
Hardee, K., Agarwal, K., Luke, N., Wilson, E., Pendzich, M., Farrell, M. et al. (1999) Reproductive health policies and programs in eight countries: progress since Cairo. International Family Planning Perspectives 25(Supplement), S2S9.
Hindin, M. J. & Fatusi, A. O. (2009) Adolescent sexual and reproductive health in developing countries: an overview of trends and interventions. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 35(2), 5862.
International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) & Macro International (2007) National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005–06: India Volume II IIPS, Mumbai.
Jejeebhoy, S. J. (2007) Sexual and reproductive health among youth in Bihar and Jharkhand: an overview. Economic and Political Weekly 42(48), 3439.
Jejeebhoy, S. J., Kalyanwala, S., Zavier, A. F., Kumar, R. & Jha, N. (2010) Experience seeking abortion among unmarried young women in Bihar and Jharkhand, India: delays and disadvantages. Reproductive Health Matters 18(35), 163174.
Kalyanwala, S., Zavier, A. J., Jejeebhoy, S. & Kumar, R. (2010) Abortion experiences of unmarried young women in India: evidence from a facility-based study in Bihar and Jharkhand. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 36(2), 6271.
Khalid, Y. & Aras, R. Y. (2012) Domestic violence and its influence on reproductive and sexual health. Journal of Family Welfare 58(2), 5155.
Kulkarni, P. M. (2009) Shaping India’s Population Policy and Programme: Internal Factors and External Influences. Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune.
Limaye, S. (2003) Sexuality and women with sensory disabilities. In Hans, A. & Patri, A. (eds) Women, Disability and Identity. Sage Publications, New Delhi, pp. 89100.
Lipson, J. G. & Rogers, J. G. (2000) Pregnancy, birth, and disability: women’s health care experiences. Health Care for Women International 21(1), 1126.
Lonsdale, S. (1990) Women and Disability: The Experience of Physical Disability among Women. Macmillan Education Ltd, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London.
McCabe, M. P., Cummins, R. A. & Deeks, A. A. (2000) Sexuality and quality of life among people with physical disability. Sexuality and Disability 18(2), 115123.
McManus, A. & Dhar, L. (2008) Study of knowledge, perception and attitude of adolescent girls towards STIs/HIV, safer sex and sex education: a cross sectional survey of urban adolescent school girls in South Delhi, India. BioMed Central Women’s Health 8(12), 16.
Mehrotra, N. (2006) Negotiating gender and disability in rural Haryana. Sociological Bulletin 55(3), 406426.
Milligan, M. S. & Neufeldt, A. H. (2001) The myth of asexuality: a survey of social and empirical evidence. Sexuality and Disability 19(2), 91109.
Mishra, A. (2008) Is Hysterectomy the Final Solution? URL: 29th July 2015).
Mohanty, S. K. (2012) Multiple deprivations and maternal care in India. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 38(1), 614.
Mohapatra, S. & Mohanthy, M. (2004) Abuse and Activity Limitation: A Study on Domestic Violence Against Disabled Women in Orrisa, India. Swabhiman, Orrisa.
Moll, K. (2007) Too Few to Worry About? Or Too Many to Ignore? The Exclusion of People with Disabilities from HIV Programmes in India. PMO-DFID, New Delhi.
Murthy, G. V., John, N. & Sagar, J. (2014) Reproductive health of women with and without disabilities in South India, the SIDE study (South India Disability Evidence) study: a case control study. BMC Women’s Health 14(146), 17.
Nisha (2006) InfoChange Agenda: Regulation of Disabled Women’s Sexuality.URL: URL: (accessed 15th December 2014).
Nosek, M. A., Howland, C., Rintala, D. H., Young, M. E. & Chanpong, G. F. (2001) National study of women with physical disabilities: final report. Sexuality and Disability 19(1), 539.
Oladunni, T. M. (2012) Sexual behavior and practices among adolescents with disabilities in Southwest Nigeria. Sexuality and Disability 30(3), 289299.
Piotrowski, K. & Snell, L. (2007) Health needs of women with disabilities across the lifespan. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic& Neonatal Nursing 36(1), 7987.
Prakash, R., Singh, A., Pathak, P. K. & Parasuraman, S. (2011) Early marriage, poor reproductive health status of mother and child well-being in India. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care 37(3), 136145.
Prasad, J. H., Abraham, S., Kurz, K. M., George, V., Lalitha, M. K., John, R. et al. (2005) Reproductive tract infections among young married women in Tamil Nadu, India. International Family Planning Perspectives 31(2), 7382.
Quint, E. H. (2003) Gynecological care for teenagers with disabilities. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology 16(2), 115117.
Ravindran, T. K. (1993) Users perspective on fertility regulation method. Economic and Political Weekly 28(46/47), 25082512.
Ravindran, T. K. & Balasubramanian, P. (2004) “Yes” to abortion but “No” to sexual rights: the paradoxical reality of married women in rural Tamil Nadu, India. Reproductive Health Matters 12(23), 8899.
Registrar General of India (2011) Census of India: Data on Disability Tables C20, C21, C29. URL: (accessed 24th November 2016).
Sabarwal, S. & Santhya, K. G. (2012) Treatment-seeking for symptoms of reproductive tract infections among young women in India. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 38(2), 9098.
Santhya, K. G. (2004) Contraceptive use dynamics. In Jejeebhoy, S. J. (ed.) Looking Back Looking Forward: A Profile of Sexual and Reproductive Health in India. Population Council, New Delhi, pp. 2543.
Santhya, K. G. & Jejeebhoy, S. J. (2007) Early marriage and HIV/AIDS: risk factors among young women in India. Economic and Political Weekly 42(14), 12911297.
Santhya, K. G. & Jejeebhoy, S. J. (2003) Sexual and reproductive health needs of married adolescent girls. Economic and Political Weekly 38(41), 43704377.
Santhya, K. G. & Verma, S. (2004) Induced abortion. In Jejeebhoy, S. J. (ed.) Looking Back Looking Forward: A Profile of Sexual and Reproductive Health in India. Population Council, New Delhi, pp. 88104.
Shah, P., Norlin, C., Logsdon, V. & Samson-Fang, L. (2005) Gynecological care for adolescents with disability: physician comfort, perceived barriers, and potential solutions. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology 18(2), 101104.
Sharma, R., Singh, A., Suri, V. & Kaur, S. (2015) Barriers faced by women with disabilities in access to sexual and reproductive healthcare: experiences from North India. International Journal of Preventive, Curative & Community Medicine 1(4), 6973.
Srinivasan, K. (2006) Population policies and family planning programmes in India: a review and recommendations. IIPS Newsletter. 644.
Stephenson, R., Koenig, M. A. & Ahmed, S. (2006) Domestic violence and contraceptive adoption in Uttar Pradesh, India. Studies in Family Planning 37(2), 7586.
Stephenson, R., Koenig, M., Acharya, R. & Roy, T. (2008) Domestic violence, contraceptive use, and unwanted pregnancy in rural India. Studies in Family Planning 39(3), 177186.
TARSHI (2010) Sexuality and Disability in the Indian Context. Talking about Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI), New Delhi.
Tepper, M. S. (2000) Sexuality and disability: the missing discourse of pleasure. Sexuality and Disability 18(4), 283290.
UNFPA (2013) A Deeper Silence: The Unheard Experiences of Women With Disabilities and their Sexual and Reproductive Health Experiences: Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and Tonga. UNFPA, Suva, Fiji.
Varkey, P., Balakrishna, P. P., Prasad, J. H., Abraham, S. & Joseph, A. (2000) The reality of unsafe abortion in a rural community in South India. Reproductive Health Matters 8(16), 8391.
Vaughn, M., Silver, K., Murphy, S., Ashbaugh, R. & Hoffman, A. (2015) Women with disabilities discuss sexuality in San Francisco focus groups. Sexuality and Disability 33(1), 1946.
Verma, R. K., Rangaiyan, G., Singh, R., Sharma, S. & Pelto, P. J. (2001) A study of male sexual health problems in a Mumbai slum population. Culture, Health & Sexuality 3(3), 339352.
Visaria, L., Ramachandran, V., Ganatra, B. & Kalyanwala, S. (2004) Abortion in India: emerging issues from qualitative studies. Economic and Political Weekly 39(46/47), 50445052.
Wellings, K., Collumbien, M., Slaymaker, E., Singh, S., Hodges, Z., Patel, D. et al. (2006) Sexual behaviour in context: a global perspective. The Lancet 368(9548), 17061728.
WHO & UNFPA (2009) Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health for Persons with Disabilities. WHO/UNFP: A Guidance Note. WHO, Geneva.
WHO & World Bank (2011) World Report on Disability. WHO, Geneva.
WHO (2006) Defining Sexual Health: Report of a Technical Consultation on Sexual Health, 28–31st January 2002. WHO, Geneva.
Wong, A. (2000) The work of disabled women seeking reproductive health care. Sexuality and Disability 18(4), 301306.
World Bank (2009) People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes. The World Bank, Human Development Unit, South Asia Region, New Delhi.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Biosocial Science
  • ISSN: 0021-9320
  • EISSN: 1469-7599
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-biosocial-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed