Invisible sexuality: The zigzags of disability and sexuality in Latvia

MHM Conversations


On 19 October 2021 at 18:00, the Facebook account of Pauls Stradiņš Museum of the History of Medicine is hosting the fifth issue of the MHM Conversations series, ‘Invisible Sexuality: The zigzags of disability and sexuality in Latvia’. This conversation will see social anthropologist Anna Žabicka, Head of the Ability Movement branch of the Agape Latvia Christian education organisation Baiba Baikovska and Chair of Board of the Papardes Zieds family planning and sexual health association Iveta Ķelle discuss the quality and accessibility of sexual and reproductive health education for people with disabilities.

According to the 2020 data provided by State Commission of Health and Capability Examiner Doctors (VDEĀVK), there are over 200 thousand people ‒ including children ‒ with some kind of mental disorder or physical disability in Latvia today. This conversation will be centred around two subjects at once ‒ disability and sexuality. Socially and institutionally, an erroneous perception of the sexuality of people with disabilities, particularly with mental disorders, still abounds. It is still widely believed that people with disabilities are asexual. This perception creates obstacles to knowledge on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health for people with disabilities, as well as additional hurdles to their sexual expression.

We will ask our guests for their comments on the quality of sexual and reproductive education in Latvia ‒ how open and accessible it is for people with disabilities? What is their actual level of access to indispensable and adequate information and support when dealing with sexuality- and reproduction-related matters? What are the options of finding sexual fulfilment for residents of social care centres? The conversation will revolve around two key questions: How do we as a society treat people with disabilities and the options of self-realisation ‒ sexual, among other things ‒ that are available to them? And what is or is not the information, education and support policy regarding sexuality and sexual and reproductive health of people with disabilities in Latvia?

About the contributors

Anna Žabicka is a social anthropologist who is currently writing her PhD thesis on aging and care in the Latvian countryside, basing it on a long-term ethnographic research carried out in a small Latvian countryside care home. Anna is specialising in medical anthropology: her principal academic focus is on the subjects of aging, care, health and social inequity, death and kinship. A holder of two MA degrees in social anthropology from Wayne State University (USA, 2019) and Riga Stradiņš University (2014), Anna Žabicka is currently studying toward a doctoral degree at the University of Vienna and teaching anthropology of medicine, death and kinship at Riga Stradiņš University.

Baiba Baikovska heads Ability Movement, a branch of the Christian education association Agape Latvia that champions integration of people with disabilities in the general society and the Christian community. Baiba is a guest lecturer on the subject of disability to students of the Faculty of Rehabilitation of Riga Stradiņš University and project manager and board member of the Teodors service dog association with Elfa, the first registered assistance dog in Latvia. As a disability expert (also based on her personal experience of more than 30 years) and activist, she contributes to discussions on disability and sexuality, the acknowledgement of the role of sexuality in healing and restoration of the human and emotional identity of people with disabilities.

Iveta Ķelle is Chair of the Board of the Papardes Zieds family planning and sexual health association, an active advocate of sexual and reproductive rights. Iveta believes that every human being must be guaranteed an opportunity to understand his or her own body, form positive and mutually respectful relationships, love and be loved. Papardes Zieds is currently collaborating with development centres that teach children with learning disabilities to inform and discuss sexuality in conversations with the young people, their parents, teachers and caregivers, to emphasise the significance of this subject in building an independent and safe life.

The MHM series of conversations is centred around discussions on the notion of health. Our health is a multi-layered and variable experience that is influenced by a number of factors, not always medical ones. In our conversations we will explore subjects like health inequity and inequality, stigmatisation of diseases and the influence of the urban environment and loneliness on our health. As part of the series, joined by experts of medical and social sciences and medical professionals, we will address subjects like health inequity in Latvia; the place of narcotic substance users in the society and their access to healthcare; the influence of urban environment on health behaviour, nutrition and food chains, as well as loneliness, sexual health and sexuality.

The MHM conversation series is supported by Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Live stream of the event can be accessed on the MHM Facebook account here.

Kama Sutra in wooden cover, written and illustrated by hand. Text in Sanskrit. India, 19th century.


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