Black women living with HIV continue to experience forced sterilisation at South African public health institutions, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Conference heard at Diep in Die Berg, in Pretoria, on Wednesday
Organised by the Department of Social Development, the conference brought together policymakers, civil society organisations, researchers, and young people to deepen and promote sexual and reproductive justice.
Addressing legacy of forced sterilisation of HIV-positive women
Khensani Motileni, from the Women’s Legal Centre, says many women, especially, those living in rural communities face discrimination and don’t often have equitable access to basic services, such as water, food, and medical treatment.
Quoting from an investigation report by the Commission on Gender Equality, Motileni says some women were sterilised without being given alternative prevention or birth control measures.
This she says, is equivalent to forced or coerced sterilisation of women in public health institutions and has a negative impact on many women living in rural communities, including, those who are pregnant and living with HIV or chronic diseases.
“The legacy of forced sterilisation is rooted in forms of cultural and institutional power. The government and other role players have failed to provide basic services, there is a lack of accessible and dignified health services. South Africa does not have a women’s health policy and it cannot make informed and adequate provisions for women’s health,” she says.
Motileni added there was also a need for policy development and budget allocation targeted towards women’s health.
Act does not address women’s health
She says the National Health Act of 2003 does not provide for women’s health, it only provides for maternal health and family planning.
“Presently, interventions targeting HIV-related issues are designed to change risk behaviour and reduce HIV transmission rather than address violence against women living with HIV, and therefore, a rights-based approach is necessary,” says Motileni.
Highlighting on intersectional identities of women living with HIV in South Africa, Motileni says there were various factors that increased the risk of young women contracting HIV which included women’s traditional subordinate roles in society; the expectation of women to fulfil caretaking responsibilities and violence.
“Customary practices and habits that entrench women as subordinates in their homes and society, exploit them for the benefit of men, especially, in intimate partner settings, increase women’s vulnerability to contracting HIV,” she emphasises.
CGE fails to implement findings on forced sterilisation
Dr Sthembiso Mthembu, an activist and a forced sterilisation survivor, from KwaZulu-Natal Province, was at pains explaining that the Commission for Gender Equality has not implemented its findings on the investigation they conducted on forced or coerced sterilisation of women living with HIV.
She says forced sterilisation continued in public health facilities unabated and it was systematic.
“In some instances, a doctor would come to assist a pregnant woman, and once he finds that the patient is HIV positive, they would recommend sterilisation.”
She says people living with HIV want to have access to health care as human beings first before receiving health care as HIV-positive people.
Not bad doctors
Mthembu adds she is convinced that forced sterilisation was not an issue of bad doctors but a systematic issue within the health sector.
According to the Chief Director, of Population and Development in the Department of Social Development, Jacques van Zuydam: “any form of coerced sterilisation and any other invasions of bodily autonomy without expressed permission from the client is illegal in South Africa.”
Van Zuydam also urged victims of such practices and anybody who is aware of such practices and attempts to report it to the appropriate authorities without hesitation.
Amongst its objectives, this three-day Sexual and Reproductive Justice conference seeks to make recommendations on how to facilitate and strengthen SRJ across all spheres of government in collaboration, with Civil Society, Academia, and other relevant stakeholders.
Access to sexual and reproductive rights remains a challenge for many South Africans even though it is a universal right to be equally accessed by all. – Health-e News