Media should help fight HIV stigma – Prof Dingake

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Johannesburg

The need to uphold human rights – particularly sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) – should not be seen as a monopoly of the judiciary. The media has a sacred duty to ensure the three arms of the State cooperate and honour the fundamental rights of all the people, law professor Oagile Key Dingake says.

Journalists should tirelessly fulfil their watchdog role and should not shy away from criticising the judiciary if it makes controversial rulings that infringe on people’s rights, taking into account the judiciary is not infallible or sacrosanct.

Professor Dingake spoke to senior journalists, editors and parliamentarians who attended a two-day SADC-PF funded workshop held in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week, focusing on sexual and reproductive health rights. On matters of gender equality, especially in underdeveloped legal environments the courts have a duty to act as judicial midwives for the birth of a society based on equality between men and women that are still struggling to be born. “In the SADC region, it is generally agreed that media coverage of reproductive health issues is not satisfactory, on account of weak capacity and motivation for reporting on these issues,” the law professor noted.

The criticism notwithstanding, he also pointed out the fact the media’s lack of capacity and motivation is exacerbated by the fact that researchers also often lack the capacity to simplify their research so that it captures media interest.

Dingake, who is also the interim co-chair of the new think-tank on HIV, health and social justice in southern and east Africa, says media has a huge and untapped potential to inform and educate the general populace about SRHR.

He was emphatic that reproductive health is not just a health issue, but also a human right issue. He said journalists, who produce accurate reports about sexual and reproductive health issues can bring taboo subjects such as HIV into the open so they can be discussed openly, while monitoring governmental progress towards stated goals and at the same time holding governments accountable.

Sexual and reproductive health affects the social and economic development of any country. “When women die during childbirth, or from AIDS, children are orphaned. Girls often drop out of schooling to take care of their siblings. Deprived of education, they later become a burden to their countries,” he said.

“Without education, girls often marry and start having children early, which can jeopardise their health and limit their opportunities to contribute to their own development, those of their families, communities and countries,” he stated.

On the issue or abortion Dingake said, “The position I hold is that the best way to avoid abortions is through improved access to reproductive health services (contraception), information and the empowerment of women through education, which can be done brilliantly by the media.”

“It must always be remembered that human rights are universal. There is no such thing as African or European human rights. To this extent cultural and traditional arguments should never be used to undermine human rights,” he said.

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