Postdoctoral Fellow at UKZN’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies, Dr Mandisa Mbali, recently presented her research on AIDS Activism and the Politics of Women’s Health in South Africa.

Mbali told assembled colleagues and graduate students from the School at a forum on the Howard College campus that ‘women activists have shaped the design and implementation of sexual and reproductive health policies in South Africa in changing ways over time’. 

Her talk outlined the history of women’s health and AIDS activism in South Africa since 1994, saying women activists living openly with HIV in the 1990s were socially and politically marginalised both within many mixed-gender AIDS NGOs and the country’s women’s movement. 

‘These civil society groups were, therefore, relatively silent on the shortcomings of health policy in relation to the needs of HIV-positive women.  The lack of comprehensive health policies addressing the needs of women living with HIV in the 1990s was paradoxical because it was a decade where sexual and reproductive rights were increasingly being written into South African law, including the country’s Constitution,’ she said.

Mbali situated her own research in an emerging body of literature on women’s sexual and reproductive health activism in South Africa.  Common themes expressed in this literature include the needs for:

·         Revitalisation of the sexual and reproductive health movement

·         More comprehensive counseling for women patients on sexual and reproductive medical tests and procedures

·         Greater input by women’s health activists into health policy-making

·         Costing and planning for a comprehensive set of women’s health interventions to be incorporated into plans for a National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.

Her presentation was based on portions of research profiled in her book South African AIDS Activism and Global Health Politics, which she is completing under contract to Palgrave Macmillan. 

In her concluding remarks, she also spoke about a special Issue of the feminist journal: Agenda on The Politics of Women’s Health in South Africa, which she is co-guest editing with Ms Sethembiso Mthembu, a Masters student at the School.
author email : mungroo@ukzn.ac.za