Technology’s growing role in promoting women’s sexual and reproductive rights

Technology’s growing role in promoting women’s sexual and reproductive rights
Technology’s growing role in promoting women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Image by FreePik

June 2024 – Social media and other forms of technology are a great way to reach large numbers of people. But technology has an equally—or perhaps more—important role in helping people access help or knowledge that is hard to come by in the real world. That’s particularly true for women and girls, who continue to find it hard or even dangerous to gain equal access to quality healthcare, most notably when it comes to sexual and reproductive health.

The challenges women and girls face when it comes to health issues generally, and those relating to sexual and reproductive health in particular, are very clear in Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa’s maternal mortality rate of 525 maternal deaths per 1 000 live births remains well above the target of 140 deaths per 1 000 live births.

Similarly, only 52% of Sub-Saharan women who are in a relationship can access modern family planning, with abortion only freely available in four of the 54 countries on the continent of Africa.

Then there’s the scourge of gender-based violence, the figures for which are simply shameful. One South African woman is raped every three hours, and South African women are killed by their intimate partners at a rate five times higher than the global average.

All of these and other statistics point to a massive challenge that needs to be overcome, particularly if we are to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 3 (good health and well-being) and 5 (gender equality).

Achieving these goals is particularly important when it comes to women because of the outsized role they play in ensuring the viability of the next generation, as well as their contributions in terms of labour.

What are the reasons for women’s current poor health outcomes as outlined above? It is a complex question, but they include social stigma, cost and convenience. The good news is that technology, such as the innovative app developed by Kena Health, has emerged as one of the most viable ways of overcoming these challenges:

Access to healthcare. At the most fundamental level, women need the ability to consult with the right medical professionals. For many, getting to a clinic and wasting precious time in queues present a significant obstacle. Another obstacle is the stigma attached to accessing contraception or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, especially in the case of adolescent girls and younger women.

A third obstacle is, of course, cost. State clinics are free, but anyone wanting to save time or gain privacy must be prepared to pay the higher medical costs in the private sector.

Kena Health’s app provides a neat technological solution. It enables women to access medical professionals via their smartphones at a time that suits them, and in privacy. In addition to the convenience and privacy, the cost is significantly reduced. For example, consulting a general practitioner on the app costs R185, compared to around R500 for an in-person visit. If a prescription is needed, it is delivered to the patient within the app or via email. The patient can then forward it to her pharmacy of choice.

Empowerment through knowledge and support. Technology such as the Kena Health app provides a way for women and girls to access vital healthcare information that is not necessarily available in their communities, from general physical health to more specialised areas such as reproductive health, maternal care and mental wellness.

The app makes it easy and convenient to supplement knowledge with something as important: professional support. Women experiencing mental stress can find counselling via the app, something that’s vital in the case of gender-based violence and many of the other challenges they face because of their gender.

In this way, too, Kena Health can help women navigate the path to gender-sensitive healthcare and avoid the coercion and social pressure that is so difficult to overcome.

Advocacy. As a company and through its network of service providers, Kena Health is ideally placed to play an advocacy role, highlighting that reproductive rights are integral to human rights. Our advocacy role is underpinned by the fact that, by providing women and girls with access to affordable, convenient, confidential, and top-quality healthcare, we are indeed acting as an agent of change.

It’s often observed that we should be the change we wish to see. That’s a powerful thought; it’s even more powerful to make it possible for people to change. Technology is giving women and girls new healthcare options; in so doing, it is empowering them and thus driving the change we all desire.