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Compared to other African nations, South Africa has one of the most progressive laws on women’s reproductive health. The South African Bill of Rights affirms the “right to reproductive health care and bodily integrity.” The 1994 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act granted their women access to abortion services in state clinics within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Despite these laws that make abortion legal in South Africa, reproductive services face social stigma and are not widely accessible or available. These obstacles push underage girls into performing illegal abortions. These operations are not only risky to the fetus, but to the girl as well.

In South Africa, around 80,000 babies are born to girls under the age of 18. Underage girls giving birth have a higher risk of miscarriage and maternal mortality.

Starting in June, a new contraceptive device will be available free to women at all state clinics. The price of the device is normally 1,700 South African Rand (roughly $157) at a private doctor. South African Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi launched this plan at the National Assembly, calling it the “biggest family planning program South Africa has ever seen.”

The contraceptive is a tiny sub-dermal implant that is placed below the skin of the arm. It releases hormones that prevent ovaries from releasing eggs and also thickens the cervical mucous.

It lasts for three years and is expected to reduce unwanted births, illegal abortions, teenage pregnancies and maternal mortality. It does not protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Compared to contraceptive injections that could take up to a year for the effects to disappear, this implant can be removed at any moment and its effects would wear off in only a few weeks.

Contraception gives girls and women more freedom and control over their lives. It prevents early pregnancies until they choose to give birth. This allows girls to develop skills, to enter the workforce and contribute to their families and the economy.

Numerous research studies show that women’s empowerment and economic growth are closely connected. In countries where women’s empowerment is progressing, its economic growth is also improving as well. It may also be argued that economic development contributes to the advancement of women’s rights and empowerment.

Developing nations can look towards South Africa’s example of promoting women’s empowerment to decrease population growth and reduce maternal mortality, illegal abortions and unwanted births. Although contraceptives face stigma and are spurned by various societies, it can also provide the answer to a multitude of problems.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Afrika, The New Age
Photo: Sunrise Ranch