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Professor Catriona Macleod
Professor Catriona Macleod
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A case for sexual and reproductive justice approach

Date Released: Mon, 15 October 2018 15:59 +0200

By Nokwanda Dlamini, fourth-year Bachelor of Journalism and Media Studies student

Rhodes University’s Distinguished Professor Catriona Macleod, a recipient of numerous awards, presented her lecture titled “Adolescent sexual and reproductive health: controversies, rights and justice” at the Eden Grove Blue Lecture theatre on 10 October 2018.

Prof Macleod is a South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) Chair of Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, a highly respected lecturer, academic, researcher, mother and cancer survivor. In acknowledgement of her profound work, she has been the recipient of the Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor's book award, the 2015 Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Senior Research Award, the 2017 Psychology and the Social Change Award and one of the recipients of the 2015 Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Community Engagement Medal for the Siyahluma Project.

In her lecture, Prof Macleod overviewed some of the key issues relating to the sexuality education, contraception and pregnancy affecting adolescents. She highlighted questions surrounding assumptions and health injustices. Using this as a backdrop, she made a case for a sexual and reproductive justice approach.

She based her lecture on analysing the #SheConquers campaign billboard which features the following statement, “Girl power, books before babies! Matriculate then work to graduate”. Using this billboard, she noted the campaign fails to include girls who are unable to live up to the mandate and increases the stigmatisation and responsibilisation of young women because of its taken-for-granted assumptions.

At the onset, Prof Macleod criticised population control as a measure used to control female bodies through anti-natalist and pro-natalist eugenic strategies and noted that analysing resource consumption patterns is far more important than population growth. She explained these anti-natalist strategies are used to punt contraception for women deemed ‘unfit’ to reproduce (such as indigenous women, poor women, disabled women, sex workers, single women, immigrant women) while pro-natalist strategies conveyed positive media renditions of motherhood that lock into a nationalist project.

Prof Macleod furthermore criticised sexuality education’s persistent denial of women's agency, and their sexual desire (while acknowledging men’s desire), along with the foregrounding of victimisation (where women are warned about sexual violence), basing morality on abstinence (the association of virginity with purity) and heteronormativity.

In terms of teenage pregnancy, Prof Macleod addressed the negative stigma associated with it. “It is not teenage pregnancy that is the problem. The problem is unsupportable pregnancies rather than an artificial notion of age appropriateness,” she explained. Prof Macleod also highlighted the mismatch in South African legislation regarding contraceptives. “In South Africa, adolescents can legally gain access to contraceptives from the age of 12, but can’t have sex.” 

She overviewed some of the key issues with regard to contraception and adolescents. The first one, she said, concerned unmet need: sexually-active adolescents able to conceive who do not want a child but are not using a method of contraception. The second key issue, she explained, was “barriers and obstacles to access contraceptives, and concern over side-effects and fear of infertility”. The third key issue, she illustrated as “barriers to use such as a spousal accusation of infidelity, side effects, partner conflict and the daily regimen”. In her overview of the key issues, she highlighted concerns that impact health justice negatively and prevent the effective use of contraceptives.

Prof Macleod believes that sexual reproductive justice forefronts inequities and normative assumptions rather than individual behaviour cognition. Praising the social reproductive justice approach, she said, “It allows for nuanced and localised analogies of power relations and practices as a well as the interweaving of global power dynamics in local practices.”