This journey takes us back to an untold portion of our apartheid history, where access to abortion services was restricted and not encouraged. This was not a pro-life initiative, no. This was a pro-WHITE life initiative because as much as abortion was restrictively legal, white women were not encouraged to have abortions as the aim was for them to procreate and “catch-up” with the population of black people in this country as they were (and still are) the minority. It was a form of population control and that, amongst many other factors, was a loud middle finger to black lives. More specifically, the lives of black womxn.
Around that time, abortion was legal but inaccessible (Abortion and Sterilization Act No 2, 1974), and approximately 1000 generally white woman got access on condition of suicide or rape and Black women died approximately 429 deaths annually.
Fast forward to 2016, where abortion laws and fertility planning policies are as liberal as the feeling of an actual orgasm, we still see a large number of black womxn dying from sceptic abortion, still having little to no say regarding their own fertility, experiencing extreme violence by an unjust health system and still becoming infected with HIV. The sad part is that because of these factors in womxn’s reproductive lives, money is not spent improving the health system for poor black people, but rather spent on research studies for biomedical technologies that seek to bring in a lot of money to big pharmaceuticals. This further disregards black womxn’s agency and takes very little interest in fertility management and bodily autonomy for black womxn. Worst of all, the same black womxn whose lives don’t matter, are the same black bodies that are used to test the effectiveness of these new interventions. So yeah, turns out black womxn make great test tubes, right?
Interestingly, most studies around adolescent girls and young womxn (AGYW) in areas most affected by unintended/unsupportable pregnancy or HIV, the context focuses only on their behaviour and lifestyle choice (e.g. early sexual debut considered to be one of the key drivers of teen pregnancy), so-called “ignorance” and lack of adherence, and not necessarily looking at the availability of resources, information and education around consent and bodily autonomy. It amazes me how we are quick to run to poor areas with “high rates of xyz” and examine why there is such, but not look comparatively at privileged areas with “low rates of xyz” and understand what they are getting right if the issue at hand is a problem to begin with. We seek to find symptoms of problems, but not examine the core of the problem.
About a week ago, I walked out during a presentation of the National Report on Teenage Pregnancy. I felt that more than anything, this was a blame-and-shame game and not really probing around factors affecting young womxn’s knowledge of their options and actually accessing them. We need to know what is happening in young people’s lives but how we ask those questions and how we analyse the data and present the findings needs to lose the judgement. It’s one thing to know you have the right to choose and decide, it’s another thing to actually access those resources. There is no choice without justice.
It is absolutely disheartening to find oneself around big tables at conferences, sharing a panel with other incredible black womxn who are there as ‘living proof’ that the Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PreP)or the dapirivine ring works well and that when womxn are actually adherent, it could prove reduction or prevention. These researchers fly all the way, leaving humans their countries, and they target black womxn from townships and poorer areas to be their research subjects. Yes that is true, we are the bodies for lots of American PhDs, the US being the largest health donor funder in South Africa.
It’s not hard for one to find themselves in these trial studies too. The fact that there’s usually some small stipend that one is offered, that could influence one’s decision to take part in the study purely due to the small financial gain. These are things we don’t think about. In most cases, the excuse that is given when these research studies are being done is that “it is so that womxn can take charge of their own bodies.” Young black womxn are still struggling to access the right kind of contraception that suits their bodies. Black womxn are still being raped and brutally murdered and no one gives a rat’s ass about that. Black womxn still don’t have knowledge about and access to the female condom, and yet we preach “taking charge” when the overall system is spitting in our faces. We don’t need pills and rings alone to take charge, we need an overall supportive system and approach which responds to our needs, agency and rights!
I recently read an article around research being done on male contraception, and of the 72 men who were part of the research study, about 20 experienced side effects. The 20 resulted in the research being HALTED! Yay patriarchy, right? Because no one cares one bit about the fact that Depo-Provera, which is one of the most dispensed forms of contraception amongst black womxn, may be contributing to the risks of HIV infection amongst these womxn. We don’t care, right? We’ll just say there’s “increasing concern” and maybe we’ll do another study to actually see whether that’s true, but they can just slowly die so long. Yeah thanks America and Pfiser.
All in all, violence goes far beyond what we know it to be. Being black is hard, but being black, poor with a vagina is a recipe for overall systematic oppression, especially regarding fertility and reproductive justice.