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Community Engagement on Sexual and Reproductive Health in Chithwa village of Mt Ayliff

Written by Zikhona Mtwa

A key element of the Women RISE Project is our engagement with Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) issues in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. On the 1st of May our team hosted a community workshop centred on understanding community challenges within Chithwa village, located in Mt Ayliff under the Umzimvubu Local Municipality. This engagement sought to bring together various community viewpoints concerning the present SRH challenges and delve into how different departments and organizations have addressed these issues in recent years. The workshop was based on the current responses received from the project’s recent government engagement held at the end of March 2024 involving the Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Social Department, and the Office of the Premier Special Programmes Unit who have all responded to the pandemic in relation to Sexual Reproductive Health especially for rural women in the province. During the community engagement, project participants, Dr. Kholekile Ngqila and myself offered insights into the responses of these different government departments and organizations to the pandemic's impact on SRH, focusing particularly on the needs of rural women. Specifically, it focused on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on SRH and how different entities have navigated these challenges.

Figure 1: Women gathered for Women RISE Community Enagagement in Chithwa village (May 2024)

Chithwa village faces unique challenges related to SRH issues which intersect with the broader social, economic, and health-related factors in the area. This localized approach allowed for a more targeted and effective exploration of the issues at hand. The inclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic as a focal point underscores the recognition of its significant impact on SRH. The pandemic introduced new challenges such as disruptions to healthcare services, increased vulnerability to SRH risks, and changes in community behaviours and attitudes. Understanding these implications is crucial for developing responsive and resilient SRH strategies in the face of ongoing and future challenges.

During the discussions, we discussed how the pandemic has affected various aspects of reproductive health. One key area that was examined was teenage pregnancy. With lockdowns and disruptions to education and healthcare services, community members stated that there have been concerns about an increase in teenage pregnancies. We also talked about Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE), which is crucial for young people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.  Another significant topic that was addressed was Adolescent Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights. These rights are essential for young people to access the services and information they need to protect their health. However, with the strain on healthcare systems and resources during the pandemic, there have been challenges in ensuring these rights are upheld. Unsafe abortions emerged as a concerning issue in the discussions. Restrictions on movement and access to healthcare services have led to an increase in unsafe abortion practices, risking the health and lives of individuals. The availability and access to contraceptives were also highlighted during our conversation, where disruptions in the supply chain and limited access to healthcare facilities have posed challenges for individuals seeking contraceptives. HIV/AIDS and cancer were also part of the discussion where community members expressed how the pandemic has affected the delivery of services for HIV/AIDS and cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

Figure 2: All the Women RISE Community Enagagement participants in Chithwa village (May 2024)

Mrs. Phikwa, a respected member of the community, spoke on behalf of her fellow residents, conveying heartfelt gratitude to the Women Rise team. Her words resonated with appreciation as she highlighted that the team's dedication and presence in rural areas has made a profound impact. Mrs. Phikwa acknowledged the vital role the Women Rise team plays in bridging gaps in access to essential sexual and reproductive health information. She stressed how their outreach efforts have empowered individuals by providing them with knowledge and resources. Additionally, Mrs. Phikwa noted that the team's work has not only educated but also instilled confidence and a sense of agency within community members. Mrs. Phikwa further emphasized that this education goes beyond simply raising awareness. It aims to equip women and girls with the knowledge they need to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. She highlighted the crucial role of education in empowering individuals, particularly women. She praised the Women Rise project for their commitment to providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and emphasised the importance of debunking myths surrounding sexual and reproductive health and promoting contraceptive literacy. Through these educational efforts, women and girls are empowered to take charge of their own health and well-being within their community. According to Mrs. Phikwa, these educational initiatives have had a significant impact in the community and by understanding their options and rights, women are better able to advocate for themselves and make choices that positively affect their lives.


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