‘Sexual reproductive rights of persons with short stature matters’


Rwandan persons with short stature (dwarfs) experience stigma and discrimination due to misconceptions, stereotypes, and negative attitudes towards people with physical differences. This stigma can manifest in various forms, including social exclusion, bullying, ridicule, and marginalization.

For a woman or girl, it can lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and reluctance to seek reproductive health services. This stigma may be exacerbated by societal norms and stereotypes about height and femininity.

NIYONSABA Marie Chantal is a woman with short stature from western province and a Vice- Legal Representative of an Organization of Rwanda Union of Little People. She said that being a woman with short stature seems to be a shame to the society that renames affected persons differently against their human rights, but it is not that bad as the society thinks.

Figure 1: Marie Chantal NIYONSABA, Vice- Legal Representative of an Organization of Rwanda Union of Little People

” Usually for women, development of secondary sexual characteristics like breasts, hips, menstrual cycle and fertility happen at adulthood. But for women with Short Stature, it may delay or fail to develop when it should. This is where our society start to insist that we are abnormal. But for sure, we may be in a good health but develop those parts late,” Niyonsaba said.

Honorine MUKARUKUNDO also a woman with Short Stature from Northern said that living in rural areas is a challenge due to various factors. “In rural areas, we meet limited access to information about sexual and reproductive health due to social isolation, limited educational opportunities, or cultural taboos surrounding discussions about sexuality and disability. You may even be raped without anyone’s concern and become a single mother with short stature. In rural, parents cannot tell us about sexual reproductive health as they do to our sisters thinking that we are still children and even not fertile. As result, our right keeps on being violated, raped without anyone’s concerns, unwanted pregnancies, increasing sexual transmitted diseases, chronical poverty, schools’ dropouts, illegal activities like drugs abuse, etc”.

Figure 2: Honorine MUKARUKUNDO, a woman with short stature from rural area

Claudine BIHOYIKI is now a mother of a girl and a boy. She testifies that many of women and girls with short stature know nothing about their right to sexual and reproductive health as their right is abused silently. “I was sexually abused when I was young and got pregnant at that time. For sure, I knew nothing about sexual reproductive health. It was like a hell to me seeing myself pregnant unwillingly but it was good news to my family who used to see me as useless.”

“I did not even get justice for being raped because it was like a chance to my family to have a grand-child from me, so they want no one to know the case and I knew no one to help me. To date I am a single mother with short stature. I would like to tell the world that not only persons with short stature, but also with disabilities in general. We are Human being that we need dignity as human being and our right to sexual reproductive health matters”.

Figure 3: Claudine BIHOYIKI, a woman with short stature from Western province of Rwanda.

NIYONSABA added that the society should be aware that women and girls with Short Stature have the same right to Sexual reproductive Health as other society members because regardless the age, they are still taken as children. “If nothing done, we are at increased risk of sexual violence and abuse due to factors such as vulnerability, social marginalization, and power imbalances. This can have profound implications for our sexual and reproductive health and may hinder our ability to access services and support”.

NIYONSABA said that implementing educational campaigns and workshops specifically tailored to women and girls with short stature and youth in general, focusing on their sexual and reproductive health rights, including information about contraception, family planning, prenatal care, and safe childbirth practices can help. According to her, the programmes should be culturally sensitive and accessible, using formats such as workshops, pamphlets, and community discussions.

She urged the government to ensure that sexual education curriculum in schools is inclusive and addresses the needs of all students, including those with disabilities or physical differences.

“It should incorporate discussions about body positivity, consent, healthy relationships, and reproductive rights, emphasizing that everyone, regardless of their stature, has the right to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.”

She urged non-government organizations, Civil Societies and organizations of persons with disabilities to conduct outreach programs within communities to raise awareness about the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls with short stature. Engage community leaders, religious leaders, and local organizations to promote acceptance, challenge stigma, and advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities.

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