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Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights in South Africa

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It’s so important to know your rights, and that goes for your sexual healthcare rights too. Here are a few things you might not have known about the South African Constitution and its stance on sexual healthcare rights.

1. The apartheid regime exercised strict control over people’s sexual and reproductive health rights

During our dark past, the apartheid government had laws in place to control our sexual health. It’s shocking to imagine this now, while we enjoy the freedoms and protection of our liberal constitution, but it’s true.

It took a new democratic regime and two decades of hard work to have our sexual and reproductive health rights recognised as a legitimate part of our human rights. Led primarily by women, this was also instrumental in the fight for gender equality.

Thanks to efforts by the Women’s National Coalition and the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, sexual and reproductive health rights were written into our Constitution’s Bill of Rights in 1996.

2. Our Constitution empowers you to make free choices about your sexual health

All South Africans have the right to make their own decisions about their sexual health. That means freedom to decide when (and whether) to have children, and includes the legal right to have abortions.

What else does the Constitution say? It recognises that people have the right to know about contraception, and to have access to the safe, affordable and effective method(s) of their choice. In other words, it’s your right to protect yourself against unwanted pregnancy, and to choose and have access to the contraception you prefer.

Women have the right to access safe, appropriate medical services to help ensure a safe, healthy pregnancy and labour. Women are also free to decide whether and/or when to have children, as this is fundamental physical, psychological and social health.

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Complete access to reproductive healthcare services must include family planning and contraceptive advice, legal termination of pregnancy, and sexual education and counselling services.

3. In South Africa, you are safe to exercise the choices you make about your sexual health – even if you’re not from SA

The state must provide reproductive healthcare to all citizens, in conditions that make it safe for people to exercise their rights without fear or harm.

Moreover, everyone is guaranteed the right to access essential sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including migrants and people in emergency situations (i.e. refugees).

4. There’s still lots of work to be done

While SA has some very good policies in place, we still face one major challenge: effective implementation. We must continue to strive for reproductive justice, which means ensuring that all South Africans have access to all reproductive healthcare services, regardless of their race, sex, income, or social class.

In Conclusion:

It’s so important to understand and respect your sexual health rights — both in South Africa and beyond. We must continue to fight for reproductive justice, while also celebrating the progress we have already made in South Africa toward protecting our sexual and reproductive health rights.

In a society that still has a long way to go, it’s up to each of us to be informed about our sexual healthcare choices and advocate for ourselves or those around us when needed.