How South Africa’s Reality is Impacting our mHealth Tool

Picture Credit -Phephisile Mathizerd
Picture Credit -Phephisile Mathizerd

After a week of meetings in Cape Town, the safe2choose mHealth South Africa team progressed on to Johannesburg (Joburg) where we continued making strides in preparing for the roll-out of the referral

Our meetings there included rich engagements with government officials in Pretoria and Mpumalanga as well as a sex workers organization and WITS University faculty. As a result, the realities of the South African context in which we are working were made even more apparent to us.

South Africa is a young democracy with lots of demographic diversity and has a peculiar history, which presents safe2choose with a unique set of challenges and opportunities for operating in the country. The country has taken bold steps around issues concerning women’s health both prior to and post its liberation, including decriminalizing the termination of pregnancy in 1997, supporting women’s right to choose, and providing abortion on request at public health facilities. As of now, any woman of reproductive age can get an abortion provided that she is less than 13 weeks pregnant.

Keeping in mind this unique history and the variety of realities facing South African women, our local team focused their first week in Joburg on better familiarizing itself with the reproductive health landscape of the country. This was not taken lightly, as we realize the responsibility we carry in providing access to safe abortion services in South Africa. Women’s lives are at stake and we wholly intend to present our tool as a platform for accessing one’s rights, as well as inspiring and empowering women to seek the care they deserve. In addition to providing referrals, we want to encourage women to reclaim their right to safe and accessible reproductive healthcare, a space that is largely associated with and wrapped around stigma, discrimination, ill-treatment, and the shunning of those who are brave enough to stand their ground.

safe2choose realizes the need for carefully navigating between providing women in South Africa with much needed options to safe and legal abortion care, and navigating issues of cultural sensitivities, language barriers, and societal mind-set shifts. We are continuously revising our approach and our tool and are paying even more attention now to catering to our wide variety of audiences: students, mothers, city dwellers, rural residents, unemployed women, wealthy women, English speakers, and those who speak local languages. We are thinking through issues of access and asking ourselves questions such as: do the people we are building this tool for use a cell phone? Where do they live? What language do they speak? How much money do they make? What kinds of communities are they a part of?

Our two-weeks of meeting with stakeholders in both Cape Town and Joburg were fruitful and we are getting closer and closer to launching our tool. Focus group testing is under way, and we are working closely with a local marketing and communications agency that has been brought on board to spread the word about our tool through social media, radio, and print media. We have plans in place for add-ons to the initial referral campaign that include information for women about their legal rights and signs to look for to ensure they are receiving safe reproductive healthcare. We are excited to be a part of creating a South Africa where a woman’s right to choose is respected, protected, stigma-free and comes with a safe and high-quality service.

By: Phephisile Mathizerd- 10 January 2017