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The Durban University of Technology (DUT) HIV/AIDS Centre recently hosted the Women’s Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and COVID-19 webinar on Microsoft Teams.

In her opening remarks DUT’s HIV/AIDS Centre Manager, Thobile Zulu shared that they held the webinar to highlight some of the issues affecting women. Zulu said Women’s Month has come and gone but one thing that is really disappointing is that women are still experiencing abuse; Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is still rife.

She raised concerns that with every pandemic that has come, women become more vulnerable and their access to sexual reproductive and health rights services become interrupted.

The guest speaker, Nompilo Mjwara who is a Researcher at the Aids Foundation of South Africa is no stranger to DUT as she is a former employee of the HIV/AIDS Centre.

Mjwara graduated at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) with a Bachelor of Communications degree, also holds a Master’s degree in Population Studies. She is currently pursuing her PhD looking at the Constructions of Masculinities Among Young Rural Fathers in a rural area called KwaHlabisa.

She has also worked in the Eastern Cape Department of Health in the Monitoring and Evaluation Doctorate Unit. In 2015 she joined the DUT HIV/AIDS Centre as an MSM and LGBQTI+ Programme Co-ordinator.

Mjwara advocates for issues pertaining to sexual reproductive and health rights said the topic is an issue close to her heart as it deals with issues of the wellbeing of human reproduction. “Sexual Reproductive Health has got a long journey particularly because I am a woman myself and I also live in South Africa. Issues of Sexual Reproductive Health somewhat has an impact overall regardless of whether we are in or out of the pandemic,” said Mjwara.

Furthermore, she provided a background on COVID-19, stating it affects people globally, especially people living in South Africa.

She raised concerns about the high number of people infected in the country, referring to 622 000 cases at the time, with over half a million recoveries. “Dr Zweli Mkhize has indicated that we should not celebrate this pandemic, especially us talking about issues of Sexual Reproductive Health amongst women bodies,” said Mjwara.

She unpacked how COVID-19 has impacted on Sexual Reproductive Health which is a fundamental right for all.

“Whether you are men or women, it’s a fundamental right for all even during this pandemic of COVID-19. Sexual Reproductive Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing in all matters related to the sexual reproductive system. Before we can even speak about sexual matters, we should be speaking about the wellbeing of a human body. This means people are able to have satisfying and safe sex lives, the capability of reproducing and freedom to decide if and when, and how often to do so. As a human being you have a right to decide what to do with the body you have,” said Mjwara.

Issues like HIV, poverty, Gender-Based Violence, intimate partner violence and no family support are some of the issues Mjwara said raises vulnerability to women including adolescent girls.

Zulu said this month (September 2020) they plan to host a series of webinars on unplanned pregnancy and substance abuse.

Pictured: Nompilo Mjwara

Simangele Zuma

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