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  • Billy Magagula

International Day of Action for Women’s health as an empowering tool for victims of GBV in SA

Updated: May 29, 2023

In a climate where violence against women is comparable to war zones (Lukani, 2019), South Africa needs as many programmes and activations as conceivable to demolish this destructive pattern in our society. The international day of action for women’s health is one of the many ways in which gender based violence (GBV) can be addressed. GBV has grim consequences for women’s health; this includes homicides, suicides, AIDS-related deaths as well as physical injuries, chronic pain syndrome, gastrointestinal disorders, complications during pregnancy, miscarriage and low birth-weight of children (Enaifoghe et al, 2021).

The international day of action for women’s health was initiated in 1987 during a reunion of members of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), 28 May was declared as International Day of Action for Women’s Health. The South African government officially recognised this day in 1999 (SA Government, 2023). The main purpose of this day is to promote the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of all women all over the world (Arora, 2020)

The focus of the day is to highlight that an attack on SRHR anywhere is an attack on SRHR everywhere (WGNRR, 2023). The day highlights the most ingrained kinds of violence against women and girls in our society today, including coercion, discrimination, and violence (Aantjes, 2019). These ought to be enough to inspire our leaders and ourselves to take sustained action on their own. However, there is a failure to implement the safeguards required to stop the persistence of institutions that influence poor health. Part of the consequences of GBV is the silencing and disempowering of the victims thereof.

The 2023 call to action declares: “Our voices, Our Actions, Our demands: Uphold women health and rights now! (WGNRR, 2023). This declaration centres women as agents of change in their lives and is thus empowering. Women and girls have the ability to make their own decisions, and the political and economic mechanisms that build our society also help to provide safe spaces for them. This suggests that in order to achieve transformative change in our social environment, substantial political action that supports equality and respectful interpersonal relationships as well as one that does not tolerate violence in any form. In altering the structural determinants which place women and girls at a social disadvantage and constrain their autonomy, we can begin to advance our commitment to ensuring women’s health (Aanjes, 2019).

The International Day of Action for Women's Health 2023 helps to build a future in which every woman can experience optimal health and wellbeing, free from prejudice. This can be achieved by identifying and addressing the unique health needs of women, advancing gender-responsive policies, and advocating for women's rights to healthcare (WGNRR, 2023).The South African government has responded through the National Integrated SRHR policy in which five policy objectives have been outlined as follows;

  1. Equip all people to make informed decisions about their SRHR and ensure that their SRH rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled.

  2. Increase the quality of and access to comprehensive and integrated SRHR care and treatment services across all life stages.

  3. Ensure access to respectful and non-judgemental SRHR services for priority groups.

  4. Strengthen the health system to deliver integrated SRHR services at the lowest feasible level in the health care system.

  5. Promote multi-sectoral engagement and shared accountability for sustainable and rights-based service delivery (Department of Health SA, 2021).

The policy objectives outlined by the South African government are aligned to the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) in recognizing that education, access to care that is of high-quality, respectful and non-judgemental as well as strong health systems and multi-sectoral engagements are necessary in upholding sexual and reproductive rights of women. The presence of a policy such as this promises a better future for SRHR however, that future will only be realised once the policy is implemented. The International Day of Action for Women's Health 2023 serves as a powerful platform to realize these policy objectives for South African women.

Writer: Ms Hlengiwe Selowa


  1. Aantjes, C.(2019). International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Heard.

  2. Arora, S. (2020). International Day of Action for Women’s Health : May 28.

  3. Department of Health SA .(2021). National Integrated SRHR Policy.

  4. Enaifoghe, A., Dlelana, M., Durokifa, A. A., & Dlamini, N. P. (2021). The prevalence of gender-based violence against women in South Africa: A call for action. African Journal of Gender, Society & Development, 10(1), 117.

  5. Govender, I. (2023). Gender-based violence–An increasing epidemic in South Africa. South African Family Practice, 65(1).

  6. Lukani, M. (2019). Violence against women in SA comparable to countries that are at war- Ramaphosa.

  7. South African Government. (2023). International Day of Action for Women's Health.

  8. WGNRR. (2023). International Day of Action for Women’s Health.

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