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SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
12 September 2001
SEXUAL RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: BRIEFING
Women’s Health Project presentation
The Women’s Health Project, from WITS School of Public Health, gave a presentation on the Sexual Rights Campaign. This aims at promoting equal rights in sexual relations focussing on issues of HIV/AIDS; violence against women; and unwanted pregnancy.
Ms Zengeziwe Msimang, in charge of the Sexual Rights Campaign, and Ms Zanele Hlatshwayo, responsible for advocacy, explained how the campaign aimed at returning to communities to find out why the ABC- Abstain / Be Faithful / Condomise campaign has failed. Their findings indicate that people, especially women, are not aware of their rights. The grass-roots research was conducted in collaboration with several NGOs, including: NACOSA, the National Network on Violence against Women, the Joint Enrichment Project, People Living with Aids. The Campaign requests the co-operation of related departments of Social Development, Justice, and Safety and Security, to display and to publicly promote the Sexual Rights Campaign. The campaign works with the definition of sexual rights from the Beijing World Conference on Women.
The key messages of the campaign are to promote mutual respect in sexual decision making, responsibility towards sexual partners and speaking publicly in spaces where issues of change get discussed. Sexual rights can be summed up as the right of the individual to
- have control of their own body
- have sex when/ with whom/ how they want to
- decide on sexual preference
- protection from HIV/AIDS
- access sexual health care
the ABC campaign seems to have put logical mechanisms in place to stem new cases of HIV/AIDS, but new statistics reveal the real situation to be deteriorating. Out of the total population of 40.6 million people, 4.7 million people are infected. Infections have increased from 1990 to 2000, with 1200 new infections per day. Statistics show that it is young people from 20 to 35, the most economically active in our society, that are most affected. Areas with the highest concentration of infection are Kwazulu Natal, followed by Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
Violence Against Women
South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women. Many young people report forced or violent sexual interaction, 40% of reported rape cases are below 18 years. There is a link between HIV/AIDS and forced sexual interaction.
Furthermore statistics gained from research done in Johannesburg showed that 64% of youth had their first sexual experience below 18 years, of these more than 2/3 had unplanned pregnancies.
The Sexual Rights Campaign has returned to the communities to see how they want to solve their particular problems, as opposed to prescribing general solutions to communities with unique problems. The Campaign sets up workshops on sexual rights, where training of trainers takes place. The presenters made a request to Social Development to further explore poverty alleviating strategies, to promote gender equality and to work with the sectors of health, housing and education to ensure individuals needs are met in urban and rural settings, taking into account the findings of the campaign.
Many members congratulated the campaign on their work: one of the latter drew a parallel to the success of a similar campaign in Uganda; another drew attention to the youth of the campaigners themselves. Comments were made on the problem of education, where young people do not take the condomise campaign seriously, or do know and understand but do not act. What mechanisms are in place to deal with this?
In response, Ms Msimang said that the campaign had interrogated the fact that young people are not using condoms. The response that ‘my peers are not using condoms’ is rectified by the training of ‘peer educators’. Last year training of a total of 400 peer educators took place in all provinces except Free State and Mpumalanga where training was underway.
In reference to the high percentage of youth infected around the age of 18 years, Ms Tshivhase (ANC) said that this was a result of these young girls being chosen by older men precisely because they were uninformed about their rights, or because they were not financially independent and would accept payment for sex. She suggested the targeting of men as a group.
Ms Msimang responded that there were not many men-only groups, asides from ‘men for change’, but that the campaign targets small groups at a time. She also said that having sex for financial gain relates to the bigger problem of poverty.
Ms Ramotsamai (ANC) emphasised the need to work with targeted groupings. She said there was the need for education of children younger than a sexually active age, as this encourages assertiveness at a later stage.
In response, the Campaign said that Prof. Asmal was very active in developing a program to target sexual education in schools, but that there was also a need for elders themselves to work with young people and younger adults.
The issue of cultural practices undermining the rights of women was raised. Prof Mbadi (UDM) made the point that he was from a community that would consider it taboo for an ‘older man’ such as himself to talk about sexual rights. The idea of sexual rights and condom use condones the enjoyment of sex, and as encouragement for the daughters to go out and have sex without observing certain customs. Prof. Mbadi alluded to King Zwelethini’s attempt to encourage virginity as abstention seemed the most morally and traditionally agreeable solution.
Ms Tshivhase added that in such communities the rule was no penetration outside of marriage, and that this was still considered a cultural offence.
The Sexual Rights campaigners agreed that in light of cultural conventions, abstention may be a solution. However, observance of cultural conventions was often not the case and she cited the example of a traditional rural community without access to condoms and people in this community were dying of AIDS in high numbers. Here the foremost issue for the women was how to take care of their infected husbands.
Ms Chalmers (ANC), a member from a rural constituency in the Eastern Cape, said that although there was recognition of the problem there was still a masking of the causes of death, for example by TB as opposed to AIDS. She said there was a need for a classification of symptoms. Furthermore she said there was a problem of young people who test HIV+ taking this as a death sentence, turning to crime or dropping out of society.
In response to this Ms Msimang said that the sense of helplessness of HIV+ persons in a situation of deep poverty was understandable. She said that no answer was possible but that of an intersectoral government approach to put in place some kind of welfare system.
Sexual Rights Campaign
Dr Baloyi (IFP) asked for more detail on the ‘stuffing’ of the organisation i.e. who the researchers for the Sexual Rights Campaign were. He said that the presentation still followed a medical model despite being presented to the Committee on Social Development. He asked the campaign if the HIV/AIDS was not an emergency, what form would prevention take? He asked about the campaigns relation to gender issues. He asked why the focus on sexual rights assumed that all other women’s rights would fall into place, he was especially keen to know how the family, as a function of social development, should change to make the Sexual Rights Campaign easier. Finally Dr Baloyi asked if the definition of rights taken from the Beijing Platform of Action had been translated into the languages of this country, and if so would it still have the same meaning as the English one. He said that one sentence in English may require ten in Zulu, and his was a question of adaptability not applicability.
The Campaign responded to specific issues, saying that manuals and training happen in local languages. Ms Msimang explained that the campaign was not in the position of making recommendations to the clusters but rather aimed at giving a framework for the promotion of sexual rights, it was then up to Social Development to implement this according to its own agenda. Furthermore she said that the training is intimately linked with gender and sexual relations.
The Campaign was asked how it monitors its success in areas where training has taken place. Mr Masutha (ANC) raised serious concern about the North Western areas where clinics often do not have condoms and where clinics are closed over the weekend and have limited opening hours during the week. Another member asked how the work is affected by mixed messages sent out by the government and the President himself, and if they have experienced any obstacles in their educational programs.
The campaigners responded that ‘sex’ is always a very contentious issue, but that they experienced no real resistance since the situation is so bad that communities want concrete plans of action. The Campaign is unable to address issues of clinics. There are no satellite centres in rural areas but there is a direct line to Johannesburg, and follow-up visits are made.
Finally the campaigners asked the Committee how they would respond to the challenges of the ‘Sexual Rights Campaign’.
The Chairperson, Mr Saloojee, thanked the Campaign for their presentation, saying that it would be taken into account along with many other initiatives. Mr Saloojee noted that such input and research into the real situation on the ground enriches the work the government is doing to address related problems. The Committee sees such civil society organisations as partners.
The meeting was adjourned.