Gaborone, Botswana — Raised by a single mother in the village of Rasesa, Tsaone Mosweu was born with a genetic eye disorder that would impair her vision. "At age 10, I developed cataracts and had surgery. At 12, my sight deteriorated until I lost it," says Tsaone.
"I was an ambitious young girl and I wanted to be an obstetric gynaecologist. My dream seemed impossible, but I was determined and I finished high school. Then I completed a public health degree and I graduated at the age of 24.
"Growing up, I was surrounded by many girls with disabilities who experienced harassment, who didn't know about condoms and were discriminated against at health facilities - and so was I. When I went for an HIV test, the nurse said I should come with a caregiver to receive the test result. I argued for my right to privacy and her duty to confidentiality. That was exhausting.
"One day, I attended a UNFPA event about HIV and sexual and reproductive health that changed my life. I knew I could help UNFPA understand how girls with disabilities are vulnerable. Through a government programme, I started an internship at UNFPA in 2020.
"I was excited that I would be able to advocate for the rights and health of girls with disabilities. People believe we are asexual, that we don't have the right to marry and choose to have children and decide how many to have. Girls with disabilities are often raped and have no one to support them.
"The problem is not our disability. It is the community around us that makes us more disabled.
"The visually impaired do not have enough information to prevent HIV and unintended pregnancy, and to make informed decisions. For those who live in boarding institutions, it is even harder to get accurate information on their own.
"The office provided me with a tablet and a laptop with screen-reading software to assist in my daily work. Tech is helpful but it was challenging to learn at first.
Advocating for sexual reproductive rights of those furthest left behind
People with disabilities are widely believed to be asexual, and many experience negative attitudes from service providers. This represents one of the greatest impediments to young people with disabilities accessing sexual and reproductive health services. Since joining UNFPA, Ms. Mosweu has been championing for the rights of those furthest left behind.
It is precisely these challenges that have strengthened her determination to promote the welfare of people with disabilities, particularly young people. She began her work as a Youth Chairperson for the Botswana Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted (BABPS), an organization that enhances sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV and AIDS education, and access to information for blind and visually impaired people in Botswana, to close the gaps identified. Thanks to BABPS, the blind and visually impaired now have access to condoms with packaging printed in Braille.
Through her current role with UNFPA Botswana as a Junior Consultant, Ms. Mosweu has continued her efforts to promote access to sexual and reproductive health services for young people with disabilities, through empowerment programmes. She hosted the first ever Condomize! campaign for the Network of Young Persons with Disabilities.
Young people with disabilities represent a segment of society that is often left behind. UNFPA works with partners to ensure sexual and reproductive health services are comprehensive and inclusive of all.