Up to 10 million people in Iran are living with disabilities, campaigners say, but the culture surrounding the issue is largely one of shame, writes BBC Near East Women’s Affairs journalist Feranak Amidi.
One area which is particularly taboo in the socially conservative country is sex, and more so the sexual needs of disabled women.
Here, 41-year-old Mitra Farazandeh, who lives with disabilities in a small village in northern Iran, describes her own experience – and frustrations.
I am a woman. I am a woman with 75% physical disability. Yes, I have experienced love. I always say that a person who hasn’t experienced or felt love is like a scarecrow on a farm – lifeless.
I was 11 when I realised I had a special feeling about our neighbour’s son. This feeling didn’t make sense to me.
In those days, I didn’t consider myself human. Because of my disability and deformity, I didn’t believe I deserved to live. I was waiting for the unwanted moment of death.
For 14 years, I buried this love within me. I kept it to myself. After 14 years, I decided to bow down to this love and confess to him and my family. He welcomed my love but my family didn’t approve.
This made my life hell for a few years. But my love for him taught me how to also love myself – it moved something within me.
I have loved that man for 30 years, although we have never been together.
The truth is that, regardless of my disability, I am a woman with all the needs and feelings that a woman has.
I want to have my lover hold me in his arms at night and stroke my hair. Unfortunately, many people in our culture believe that women like me don’t deserve to love or be loved. This causes me pain.
The fact that my father doesn’t allow me to be with someone I love pains me. Many other disabled women like me suffer because our sexual and emotional needs are suppressed.
I believe the most important change needs to come from within ourselves. We are the ones who need to accept our sexual abilities and limitations.
We need to believe we deserve to live life to the fullest and enjoy it regardless of our disabilities. Once we believe in it, people around us will also start to respect our needs.
I know many disabled women around me whose families are unaware that these women are sexual beings because these women have failed to believe it themselves. If you don’t believe you deserve to be loved, how can your family believe it?
Although my father still insists on suppressing my feelings, I am proud of having expressed my emotions and needs. My belief in the right to live a fulfilling life has allowed me to overcome many obstacles and gain freedom.
There are still many people who believe that the sexual and emotional needs of disabled women are not a priority. But the truth is far different.
All people – men and women, able or disabled – have a spectrum of emotional and sexual needs.
I personally believe that sometimes the sexual energy of disabled people can be stronger than those who don’t have disability, maybe because it is impossible for those of us who have severe physical disability to release our energy the usual way.
That surplus energy can manifest itself as a sexual force.
I think if a disabled woman’s sexual needs are not met, it can be very damaging.
Our physical disability can feel like a cocoon holding us inside. To release our physical and sexual energy would give us more space in this tiny cocoon.