Sinazo Didiza|07.03.2017|Feature

South Africa has some of the most progressive laws in the world, promoting human rights and justice for all. It also has numerous policies in place that promote and protect women’s rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health services.

Despite these laws, strategies and policy guidelines, women in my country still experience challenges when it comes to enjoying their rights, in particular with regards to accessing sexual and reproductive health services. One of the main reasons for this is that there are gaps in sexual health policies. Moreover, the implementation of existing policies is often not fully safeguarded. Often there are inequities in terms of service delivery, resources are limited and there is inadequate training among health service providers about human rights and inclusion.

In addition, there is a gap when it comes to administrating and providing sexual health services such as contraceptives and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Women who access these services usually merely receive treatment without any further sexual health education by health providers. Nor are they informed about any side effects they might experience as a result of treatment. I believe that if health service providers are better trained on the provision of sexual and reproductive health services there would fewer inequities in service delivery.

And despite the fact that we have various laws and policies in place that protect women’s sexual health and rights, I feel that there is lack of coordination and integration across different policy areas. This affects implementation on the ground.

In most public health facilities in my country sexual and reproductive health services are not prioritised. A lot of young women, especially school-going girls, are unable to access family planning services because these often close at 12pm. Since most schools finish only after 2pm, this time barrier prevents young women from obtaining contraceptive services.

If we want to tackle these issues, we need strong stewardship and good public health service management. We need to provide more comprehensive training for health service providers, enabling them to better understand and cater for the needs of specific target groups such as young women. I believe there should be a standardised human rights approach to health service delivery and all the health service providers should be trained on it.

In addition, schedules for accessing sexual health services need to be adjusted to accommodate young women and girls who are attending school. Health facilities need to start prioritising sexual and reproductive health services and no woman should be turned away. Existing policies need to be reviewed and monitored for improvements in implementation and to fill existing policy gaps. And finally, the various laws that affect women’s sexual health and rights need to be better integrated to make sure they speak with one voice. Only then will we be able to provide and promote sexual health and reproductive services that are truly inclusive and centred around human rights.