Gender inequality has been a persistent reality of South Africa’s history – and remains a hurdle. Nonetheless, women have made significant strides.
If you’re poor, black and female, you’re likely to face obstacles to equality in your community, workplace and home. We take a look at some of the barriers women have overcome in the past 60 years, and what still needs to change.
Some of women’s greatest gains have been in the arena of reproductive and sexual health. Sixty years ago, highly restrictive criteria made abortion illegal or inaccessible for most women. Up until 1984, the common law subjected a woman to her husband’s marital power. This meant that women often had to obtain their husband’s consent to be sterilised and, in some cases, to receive any family planning method. But, today the Constitution and legislation, such as the 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, recognise and afford every woman the right to choose and exercise her choice, in line with her individual beliefs, on all issues concerning her body – including matters of reproductive and sexual health. However, there is still much ground to be covered.
Statistics indicate that HIV infection rates among young women aged between 15 and 24 are double that of men. This suggests that male risk taking sexual behaviour contributes to women’s ill health, according to Janine Hicks, a commissioner with the Commission for Gender Equality and chairperson of Agenda Feminist Media.
Those living with HIV/Aids or disabilities are also particularly vulnerable – they are forced to undergo sterilisation, showing the degree to which women face prejudice and discrimination.
Women continue to face practical economic, domestic, cultural and legal barriers to general healthcare, as well as sexual and reproductive health rights and services, says Janine. If this situation is to change, women not only need access to decent healthcare, but they must also be able to control their own health, she argues.
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