Advocating for women’s health rights: A commitment beyond National Women’s Day August 8, 2023

As South Africa gears up to celebrate National Women’s Day on 09 August, SASOG renews its responsibility and dedication to championing women’s health rights. This year’s theme, “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience,” captures the need to prioritise the health, wellbeing, and empowerment of every woman and encapsulates the ethos of the South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG) for ‘Excellence and Equity in women’s health”.

Since its formation in 1946, SASOG has been at the forefront of advancing women’s health and wellbeing in South Africa through ethical standards, and clinical excellence. We believe that health is at the core of empowerment. An informed woman, equipped with the right opportunities and support, stands better poised to tackle socio-economic challenges. Recognising this interlinkage, SASOG has, through its BetterObs and BetterGyn initiatives, developed guidelines ensuring clinicians deliver enhanced and benchmark quality care, leading to improved patient outcomes.

To ensure that women have access to essential information about their health, SASOG has developed, and made accessible, patient information leaflets, addressing common conditions affecting women. By disseminating knowledge on pressing health matters—like cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancers, or insights into pre- and antenatal care, the information gap is lessened, allowing women to make informed decisions about their health.

Ensuring women’s access to care, socio-economic rights and empowerment goes beyond medical care.  Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Femicide remain a haunting reality, with the former significantly contributing to unintended pregnancies. Victims, often silent due to shame, are at risk of HIV, Femicide and other diseases. Responding to this, SASOG launched an action plan in 2019. Using international guidelines, it equips health professionals to detect GBV, providing victims the needed clinical and emotional support, especially crucial for pregnant women who are often more vulnerable – physically, emotionally and financially. Integral to this is the physician’s role in assessing immediate dangers and establishing safety plans when required.

The essence of National Women’s Day is not just about celebration but also about recognising the socio-economic challenges women endure. Factually, the face of poverty in South Africa remains to be that of the black African woman and SASOG is in strong support of the empowerment of women at the workplace, in leadership and across all sporting codes – particularly in recognition and celebration of recent successes in football (Banyana Banyana), netball (the Spar Proteas) and cricket (the Proteas). The resilience of women, especially in the fields of healthcare and community leadership, has been evident. And while we see ground-breaking efforts at a clinical level, it is imperative to ensure these strides translate to tangible changes in the everyday lives of women.  With the challenges presented by the pandemic still evident, building back better has never been more pertinent. The global Generation Equality campaign’s ambition to realise gender equality by 2030 offers South Africa a chance to synchronise its efforts with a global movement.

SASOG, representing Obstetrics and Gynaecology both within South Africa and internationally, has an essential role to play in this. As we reflect and celebrate on National Women’s Day, SASOG renews its commitment to health rights as a continuous advocacy and to work towards a South Africa where every woman, regardless of her background, has uninhibited access to the health resources and support she needs. Happy National Women’s Day!

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