Durban -

The sexual and reproductive health of women on campus will be the focus of collaborative efforts between several Southern African universities.

This was the pledge made by the University of Cape Town’s African Gender Institute’s Young Women’s Leadership Project officer, Dr Barbara Boswell at a workshop titled “Excavating Body Stories” held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus last week.

“The project is about educating young women on the rights they are entitled to, in terms of their sexual health, whether its access to regular Pap smears or the right to use emergency contraception,” she said.

Boswell said that the forum allowed students to talk about their experiences.

“At (UCT) some girls talked about the attitudes of nurses at the campus clinic, who made comments or even refused to help them with the morning-after pill. These are the issues that need to be brought to the fore.”

UKZN anthropologist, Dr Maheshvari Naidu, was awarded a grant and invited to join the project in June.

The accomplished academic and researcher, said the university’s website, joined other partner institutions and researchers based at the University of Botswana, University of Namibia, University of Zimbabwe, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, University of Witwatersrand and University of Cape Town.

Commenting on the Young Women’s Project, Naidu said the project dovetailed with her earlier work on women’s sexualities, offering a “public face” to anthropology and allowing articulation of what was termed scholarship activism.

“This is increasingly critical, given the sexual power asymmetries that continue to be embedded within academic institutional contexts,” she said.

She further emphasised that according to the African Gender Institute, the notion of “young woman” spanned different approaches to understanding the politics of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and offered a challenge to those working in SADC universities.

“The increasing recognition is that while many academic institutional cultures in the SADC region increasingly recognise women’s equality with men and their intellectual potential, the women’s contexts still include high levels of vulnerability to sexual violence,” Naidu said.

Researchers at the workshop offered up different narratives of the challenges facing women.

Professor Shalina Mehta, social anthropologist and activist from Panjab University, India, touched on female infanticide (the murder of female babies to avoid paying the dowry when they married) and the subjugation of women in certain areas of her home country.

Boswell spoke about femicide, specifically the murder of women by their intimate partners.

Other speakers looked at the power of performance in capturing the individual struggles of women through poetry or song.

Participants, comprised mainly of female students, were asked to write and read a piece of prose and engage with the speakers.

Naidu said: “We wanted to initiate a conversation, to spark something, to get women talking about the issues affecting them.”

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