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The Perinatal Society of Sri Lanka in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka hosted a panel discussion on the “Implications of Gender and Disability on Perinatal outcomes” in Colombo recently. The session explored the need for inclusive, comprehensive perinatal (pertaining to the period immediately before and after birth) care looking at equity in access and quality of care, without discrimination, and accountability across all programming and policymaking with a specific focus on disability and gender. 

Women and girls are often vulnerable in society due to the inequalities that prevail. Moreover, disability is not a gender-neutral experience as it impacts women and girls both differently and more significantly resulting in double discrimination.  The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these inequalities and has possibly stalled progress made over the past few decades. This public health crisis has led authorities around the world to take measures to control the spread of the virus.  The preventive measures however also contributed to the compounding challenges such as movement restriction, limited access to support services that women with disabilities face.

Speaking at the Symposium, Dr Kaushalya Kasturiaratchi, President of the Perinatal Society reassured that in all future activities of the Society gender and disability would be given due consideration and would be a voice for the voiceless, marginalized groups. 

Expressing his views, Dr Surantha Perera, Congress Chair reemphasized the importance of transformation of health care in perinatology in the next few years “to achieve universal health with the inclusion of care for the disabled and exclusion of gender-based indifference”.

Also speaking at the Symposium, Ms. Ritsu Nacken, Representative of UNFPA Sri Lanka stated “Women with disabilities who are pregnant are often more at risk with limited or no access to lifesaving treatment or care. This leaves persons with disabilities among the most marginalized groups when it comes to access to public health information and services. In a world where access to sexual and reproductive health services is already tough for women and girls, pregnant women with disabilities face greater challenges. This is an area that UNFPA is committed to working on globally and locally.”

As countries race to recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, recovery measures must factor in gender and disability particularly in a perinatal context to ensure that no one is left behind.