Improving SRHR access for queers in South Africa
Melusi Dlamini, AIDS Foundation South Africa
Melusi Dlamini shares his take on the state of play when it comes to the Sexual
and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The overlaps between our progressive constitution and SRHR policies should enable a more effective realisation of SRHR rights for LGBTQIA+ persons; however, we are far from achieving this. There remain glaring gaps between policy and the lived realities of homosexual, bisexual and gender-nonconforming persons. While more than half (51%) of South Africans agree that human rights and inherent protections should be for all, seven out of 10 (72%) still believe that same-sex relations are ‘wrong’.
This is according to a survey by The Other Foundation titled Progessive Prudes – A survey of attitudes towards homosexuality & gender nonconformity in South Africa. South Africa remains a divided society on many fronts, and these divisions are reflected in the treatment and quality of services most queer persons receive. I use the word ‘queer’ here as an inclusive term, to signify the sexual orientations and gender identities that are normally encompassed by LGBTQIA+.
Instances of queer folk being victimised in public institutions are a dime a dozen. The trauma and humiliation suffered by queer persons demonstrates that accessing services is not a given. As a result, most of the queer persons I have encountered through my work usually have to think of all these possibilities before even approaching any public institution. This can have very serious repercussions if it relates to one’s health.
The National Strategic Plan and Accessing SRHR
Sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) are about the intersecting issues and concerns that affect the lives of all individuals. Most importantly, these rights – like any others – are legally recognised and protected.
Many queer persons depend on the public healthcare system; even so, access is not automatic. Factors such as gender and income inequality, unemployment, and living in a rural or urban setting have a profound effect on how or whether queer persons are able to access SRHR.
In addition, many queer persons struggle with issues such as mental wellness, owing to the internal and external pressures they experience. For queer persons, SRHR means having service providers who are not only ‘sensitised’, but also able to competently provide access to comprehensive services.
As a result, the role of public institutions is important, and the implementation of the National LGBTQIA+ HIV Plan is central.
The LGBTQIA+ plan is a great example of how South Africa is showing the intention to realise SRHR for queer persons. While the plan acknowledges the importance of reducing HIV infections among ‘key populations’, it is also important to expand psychosocial support and empowerment. The experiences of queer persons are not limited to sexual and reproductive concerns, and the range of services that offer inclusive and comprehensive information should reflect this.
Melusi Dlamini is the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Training Officer at the AIDS Foundation of South Africa. His interests include improving access to sexual and reproductive health rights for young people, as well as issues of social justice. Melusi has also worked with queer youth in Durban on creating safe spaces and access to healthcare. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, with a specific interest in young masculinities in South Africa.