Why the Department of Health should sit down on Human Rights Day
Written by: Tunicia Phillips
South Africa can truly be proud of its constitution. It epitomises many values that our neighbours in Africa are miles too far from. It is a well-crafted guideline to preserve the integrity of the quality of life of the people it’s designed to protect.
It is however unfortunate that this glorified framework is too often just a pretty paper, as with many of our country’s glorified papers. On Human Rights Day, government departments will take to countless podiums praising the progress made since the end of our human right violation era, apartheid, and sing a happy song. Many of them will be well within their limited right to do so while others should really just sit down.
The Department of Health is certainly one of those. We may not have to carry a dompas or limit our movement, and the direct oppression of one race over another is somewhat an old unicorn. But let me tell you a story that would make the apartheid government look like amateurs. At least that’s what I thought.
The Commission for Gender Equality has received a complaint and a report from Her Rights Initiative and Oxfam, revealing hair standing stories of HIV positive women who are being coerced, intimidated or forced into sterilisation. This has reportedly occurred both at public and private hospitals. The complaint is based on a study concluded in 2011, where a score of women revealed how they were discriminated against by doctors and nurses because they were HIV positive. These women paid the ultimate price for their condition and their basic rights to bare children were taken away.
Now we can say that police brutality, and lack of basic services may also render those departments to take a seat on this dear holiday. However, it is this frightening phenomenon that has compelled my focus this year. Some of the women were as young as 19-years-old. Is this how we are preventing the spread of HIV these days, or did I miss something?
One woman discovered her sterile condition only 16 years after doctors performed the procedure without her knowledge or consent. The buck can be passed along many lines, but the fact remains that the Department of Health is not unaware of this study, or the incidences. They have even paid a malpractice claim to one of the few lucky women who have taken the matter to court.
If women are the rocks, the anchors and the leaders that government so portrays them to be, how dare they sit back and watch as their dignity and rights are ripped from inside their bosom?
How dare they stand up and praise the strides in basic healthcare, the development of women in business and the and the progress made in fighting HIV/ AIDS when some of this may have been happening at the backdrop of a grotesque assassination of their womanhood.
On this Human Rights Day, when everyone sings a happy ol’ jolly song and remembers Sharpeville, will you please remember to tell the Health bosses to just sit down?