As someone involved in activist work back in the United States, I was intrigued to learn more about social justice issues and activism on the University of Cape Town’s campus. As a browsed campus I became aware of the similarities and differences of social justice work occurring in South Africa and back home. One flyer I saw advertised a donation drive for pads and tampons to give to younger students. It mentioned that young students are often absent from school because they are menstruating but lack access to menstruation products. Coincidently, prior to leaving, I was working with Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids to collect pads and tampons as well. For many in the U.S., especially lower-income individuals, pads and tampons are extremely expensive. This is further complicated by the fact that menstruation products are not exempt from the state sales tax because they are not considered to be essential. I found this to the absolutely ridiculous, so I organized a donation drive “Give Power. Period.” to bring awareness to this issue and provide pads and tampons to those that may not be able to afford them.
I dedicate a fair amount of my time fighting for reproductive rights through volunteering with Planned Parenthood. Therefore, I was interested in learning more about abortion after seeing a sign about women’s right to choose. After some research, I learned that abortion is legal in South Africa. A woman is not required to have a reason to terminate her pregnancy up to 12 weeks, and after that point up until 20 weeks she must cite one of the following reasons: rape, severe fetal abnormality, severe maternal physical or mental disease, and/or severe social or economic conditions from continued pregnancy. Furthermore, parental, spousal, and/or guardian consent is not required for a pregnancy termination. This differs from the strict abortion laws in the United States that often times require consent from parents, mandatory counseling, and waiting periods. South Africa recognizes the importance of providing its citizens with safe and legal abortion to reduce maternal mortality and provide women with bodily autonomy.
In the bathrooms on campus, free female condoms are provided for students. This is part of a government program to reduce HIV rates and increase the use of condoms in general. The government has even gone as far as providing colored and flavored condoms for free to increase their appeal in the face of reduced usage rates. Although there are a few places on Grand Valley’s campus that offer free condoms, there are no free condom dispensers in bathrooms. Furthermore, these free condoms are not issued by a government program, that would be entirely too progressive.
Overall, I am impressed by the activism and progressiveness occurring in South Africa. Perhaps the United States could take some cues by initiating social reforms and amending regressive laws.