Let’s celebrate #May28, the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, by taking a look at what your sexual rights are. You will be surprised to know how much it has to do with you and your role as a parent!
It has often been said that South Africa has one of the most beautiful and comprehensive constitutions in the world. We are progressive in our termination of pregnancy laws, we are one of the first countries to have legalised gay marriages, we offer healthcare services to transgender individuals and theoretically reproductive healthcare services are free in South Africa.
That all looks great on paper, but what does it mean to you if you want to raise your child gender neutral or if you are same-sex parents? What does it mean to the 17-year-old wealthy girl that wants to get an abortion but has no money of her own or even worse the 17-year-old girl in the informal settlement that does not even have taxi money to get the nearest abortion clinic fifty kilometres away? They end up with unsafe abortions and sometimes dead, like millions of other women who have fallen prey to the dangers of unsafe abortions.
The World Association for Sexual Health has produced a Sexual Rights Declarations. This declaration contains the sexual rights of every individual on the planet. Even if you live in a country where you cannot access all of these rights legally.
I will briefly explain these rights in the South African context:
Basically, they are for ALL. Nobody is excluded, as long as accessing your rights does not infringe on the rights of others. For instance, you might think that you want to express your sexuality by walking around naked, but that will infringe the right of your children’s friends not to be exposed to nudity. Exposing children to nudity can be seen as sexual abuse, but it can be perfectly normal if the child walks in when mommy is getting dressed. See how it can get grey and complicated?
NOTHING can be done to your body without your consent.
The right to bodily integrity is very important in South Africa. NOTHING can be done to your body without your consent. Children under the age of twelve are unfortunately at the mercy of their parents to decide what gets done to their bodies. But the conversation of consent needs to start from as early on in a child’s life as possible. Just because a parent has the right to decide what can and cannot be done to their child’s body does not automatically mean they should.
The parents of a new-born can decide that the genitalia is telling them that it is probably a boy. Their overwhelming desire to categorise the child as either blue or pink, to fit into social norms, might push them to surgically “correct” the genitalia of a child who has not had the chance to tell them whether they are a boy or a girl.
Parents should not abuse their right to decide on behalf of their children.
Parents should not abuse their right to decide on behalf of their children. They should wait and let their kids tell them what gender they are. It is difficult, I know, but it is the right thing to do.
In hospitals in South Africa, women are way too often exposed to decisions about their reproductive health, without full and free consent. A sterilisation during the C-section of a woman who is having a fourth child. A contraceptive injection for every woman before she leaves the labour ward. It might make sense from a public health perspective, but every woman has the right to decide for herself, despite the policy.
One in three women experiences sexual abuse and many more experience violence and abuse in other forms.
The right to be free from violence is something we have to teach our children from the time we are still cradling them in our arms and we should continue to remind them of this right until the day we die. One in three women experiences sexual abuse and many more experience violence and abuse in other forms. All women should know that it is their right to NEVER experience abuse. That nothing that they do could give another person the right to abuse them. Nothing.
The right to have comprehensive sexuality education is something you should make sure your kids get. Yes, make sure the school you choose to send them to, is a school that takes this job seriously but don’t just leave it to teachers to teach your child some of the most important facts of life.
Insufficient or negative sex education is a risk factor for a whole host of sexual issues later on in life.
This is something they are going to have to learn at home. Talk to them. Be the person they can talk to. Give them as much info as you can. Answer all of their questions. Protect them against the wrong information but don’t withhold information from them. Insufficient or negative sex education is one of the biggest risk factors for unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, sexual violence and sexual dysfunction as an adult! That is not what you want for your child!
Of course, you have the right to enter into and dissolve relationships they way you think is best for you. You have the right to be any orientation and gender you chose to be and so does your child. Nobody is allowed to discriminate against you or your child based on this. A transgender child should not have to use a special toilet at school, they can use the toilet of their chosen gender. Finish and klaar, like we say in South Africa.
On a lighter note, did you know that you have the right to pleasure?
Yip, ladies did you hear that? As a woman, it is your RIGHT to have pleasurable sex! This is not a right only our male counterparts get to ENJOY. Remind yourself and your partner of this right regularly! If sex is not pleasurable, it is also your right to get help and access the latest in scientific progress to get you to where you deserve to be! As a parent, you have suffered enough – it is time for some pleasure! Access what is rightfully yours!
What is hindering South Africans from accessing our sexual rights? We are in essence very conservative, and religion plays a big part in this. Almost all South Africans come from a strict and traditional, often religious, upbringing. Even if your parents weren’t particularly religious or strict, you were most likely raised in communities that were.
Although almost all religions have love and acceptance at its core, judgement is usually what is shown to the world, especially when it comes to sexuality and the expression of an individual’s sexual rights. There are these so-called super-sins and most of them relate to sexuality. Unfortunately, that marginalises those individuals and families who do not fit the perfect mould. And applies a deeply rooted stigma to our rights as sexual beings, leaving many ignoring or neglecting their sexual and reproductive health because of it.
When you come across this judgement, just know: these rights are for all, regardless of gender, race, orientation, age or religion.
So, it is time that you take what is RIGHTfully yours!
Dr. Elna Rudolph is a medical doctor and Sexologist working exclusively in the field of sexual medicine. She is the clinical head of My Sexual Health – a multidisciplinary team of Sexual Health Professionals in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town.