10 July 2018

South Africa: Social Development On Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference

press release

The Abortion and Reproductive Justice conference opened at Rhodes University, Grahamstown

The Department of Social Development (DSD), in partnership with the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction Research Programme, Rhodes University, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition and the International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion officially opened an international conference titled Abortion and Reproductive Justice: The Unfinished Revolution III in Grahamstown.

The conference, attended by 285 delegates from 26 countries across the globe, builds on the two previous conferences that were held in Canada in August 2014 and in Northern Ireland in July 2016.

The programme themes for the conference are:

Health systems, histories of abortion, and abortion politics

Education, interventions and treatment

Theory and methods in research

Social contexts and communications

Activism and advocacy

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa protects the rights of persons to make decisions concerning reproduction and to security in and control over their bodies. In 1997, Parliament enacted the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (Act No. 92 of 1996), which places an obligation on Government to provide reproductive health services to all, including safe conditions under which the right of choice can be exercised without fear or harm.

Opening the conference, Jacques van Zuydam, the Chief Director of Population and Development at DSD affirmed the position of the South African Government. "We are proud to be a partner in hosting this conference. When we evaluated progress with the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action in South Africa in 2014, we found that many challenges remained in our endeavour to realise the full sexual and reproductive health and rights of our people.

"Persistent gender inequality in the economic, social and private spheres continue to undermine the sexual and reproductive rights of women. South Africa's Cabinet decided in 2015 that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) must be one of our country's Population Policy priorities. This specifically included the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents, and a recommendation that a reproductive justice approach should be developed to guide our work in all spheres," he said.

Echoing Mr van Zuydam's sentiment, Ms Cathi Albertyn, a Professor of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, said reproductive justice goes hand-in-hand with access to reproductive decisions. "Women need constructive social recognition, financial recognition as well as reproductive freedom. Women need to be afforded the freedom of choice with their bodies," she asserted.

Twenty one years after the passing of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was enacted, serious challenges still persist regarding its implementation. In a 2017 report, Amnesty International found that less than 7% of the country's 3,880 public health facilities perform termination of pregnancy. This number is far less than the 505 medical facilities designated by the Department of Health to perform terminations of pregnancy across South Africa. Despite the fact that abortion is legal in South Africa, it is estimated that between 52 and 58% of the estimated 260 000 abortions that take place in South Africa every year are illegal.

The South African government has consistently promoted a broadly inclusive understanding of sexual and reproductive health and rights as a basic requirement for the achievement of the objectives of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, the empowerment of women, and the achievement of gender equity and equality.

The conference builds on the ongoing work under the leadership of the Inter-Ministerial Committee established by Cabinet to oversee implementation of the Population Policy, the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy as well as the coordination of the United Nations Population Fund Country Support Programme. In 2015, Cabinet approved the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy (2014-2019). The strategy resonates with the vision of the Population Policy of South Africa (1998) and seeks to pave the way for addressing.

"The government that I represent was elected to continue to fight this struggle, as well as to advocate globally for the full realisation of all women's rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health and justice. We are committed to do our best to contribute to finishing the unfinished revolution," Mr van Zuydam concluded.

Dr Chrissie Boughey, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs at Rhodes University, thanked the Department of Social Development for their contribution in making this milestone conference a success. "The Department has been valuable in getting the delegates from all over Africa and the world to join us," she said.

Issued by: Department of Social Development

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