This Freedom Day, let's give women a right to choose safe sexual reproductive health services
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This Freedom Day, let’s celebrate our past achievements and acknowledge a woman’s freedom to choose
On the 27th April 1994, South Africans saw the dawn of the most awaited day, the first national elections where everyone over 18, from any race group, could vote. The day was later called Freedom Day.
As the country celebrates another Freedom Day, my mind wanders to ‘what freedom can mean for different people’, and how while we all have the right to live with dignity, equality and respect - there are certain kinds of freedom, which will always elude us.
For women and young girls in the country, this can mean the freedom to access critical sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, that are safe and non-judgemental – which will enable them to live healthier lives and achieve greater heights.
SRH is a core aspect of a person’s identity and an important part of their health and well-being.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), being sexually healthy is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. This includes the sexual rights of everyone to be respected, protected and fulfilled.
Lack of accurate information and knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) increases risks of unplanned pregnancies for women and young girls, unsafe abortions and HIV transmission, among others.
As a country, we can’t be too comfortable with not having honest conversations about the negative repercussions of these issues.
As much as activists, policy makers and the government are making progressive efforts in giving out relevant SRHR information and implementing programs, the continued high rates of unplanned pregnancies, illegal abortions and rates of HIV transmission is proof that we still have a problem, and that we should intensify our efforts to address these issues.
Abortion is a case in point. It is estimated that between 52-58% of the estimated 260 000 abortions that take place in the country every year are illegal.
Legal, accessible and safe abortion saves women’s lives.
In our fight to achieve reproductive justice for all, we must eliminate access to unsafe abortions through the promotion of the freedom of choice and the ability for women to have to access stigma-free and safe abortion facilities anywhere in South Africa.
Similar is true for contraception.
As an example, condom distribution may have increased in recent years, but there is evidence that the use of condoms may be declining.
In 2008, 85% of 15-24-year-old males reported using a condom during their last sexual encounter, by 2012 this had fallen to 68%. Condom use among men aged 25-49 also decreased from 44% to 36%. Our country also sees a high rate of teenage pregnancies, where a majority of which are unintended.
Complete access to SRHR services must include family planning and contraception, abortion, and sexual education and counselling programmes, and HIV prevention services, among others. Sharing information and creating awareness about such services and where to access them is key. Social media has been instrumental in opening and democratising the space around SRHR-related conversations.
We must continue to take advantage of new media tools and platforms to share information about SRHR services. As this is becoming the first source of information for young people, we need to increase our efforts to create awareness and start conversations, to encourage demand for high quality SRHR services at the national level.
Locally, partnering with community-based organisations and media can also help to create awareness and demand for services.
We must also increase advocacy, public and gender sensitive education in schools (as a part of comprehensive sexuality education) and awareness regarding comprehensive SRH services, including contraception, family planning, abortion and post-abortion contraception for young people.
As importantly, we need to start with the full dissemination and implementation of the new SRHR policy and guidelines across all provinces as well as gender responsive budgeting and planning to ensure constant, adequate supplies for SRHR services.
This will not only assist the government in ensuring that their progressive laws are implemented but it will ensure that women from anywhere in the country are able to exercise their right and get access to SRHR services.
Freedom Day is an opportunity to remind ourselves of that momentous achievement in 1994, and in 2020, recommit to ensuring that all women and the youth in South Africa have the freedom to choose and make decision for their health and lives.
* Matokgo Makutoane is a Sexual and Reproductive Health Activist
** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media