Do men have a role to play in TOP?

It is never easy to talk about termination of pregnancy (TOP) as many people have strong moral objections to it. This widespread disapproval, along with misconceptions, misinformation and fear of stigma and discrimination lead many women to having backstreet abortions which place their lives and health at risk.

Sonke has been working with men and boys in Khayelitsha to educate them about TOP and about sexual and reproductive health rights generally, in order to help women access safe TOP services more easily.

In 2009, Sonke started engaging the people of Khayelitsha in discussions and education campaigns on TOP. The project aimed to mobilise and involve men particularly in sexual and reproductive health, and to create safe and stigma-free access to TOP services for women. This was a pilot initiative funded by Pathfinder and included a strong research component.

Initial Attitudes

Initial focus group discussions in the community showed that many people are strongly opposed to TOP and that few people are properly informed about the legal status of TOP in South Africa. One of the female participants said, “No matter how poor you are that does not mean you must kill, if you tell your family they might assist you on raising the child.” However, there was a fair amount of consensus that in rape situations, TOP should be permitted.

Having gauged the opinions and knowledge of community members, Sonke set about designing a set of activities which would educate people about TOP and particularly about the dangers of backstreet abortions and encourage people to think more critically about their attitudes towards TOP. Sonke project staff conducted individual and group discussions with communities in order to share information about sexual and reproductive health rights so that community members are better equipped to prevent unwanted pregnancies and avoid the dangers of backstreet abortions in situations where TOP is necessary.

Men can play a role in sexual and reproductive health

Initially, a lot of men were sceptical about the project because of its focus on TOP. Through the project, they were made aware of the legal status of TOP in South Africa. “When Sonke started this project, I was very sceptical about it. But through information sharing, I was convinced that women have a right of control over their bodies and to terminate pregnancy if they want to due to complications,” said one community member.

The TOP project has emphasised the importance of viewing family planning and reproductive health as the join responsibility of both parties. However, a strong emphasis is placed on a woman’s right to make decisions about her body. Male participants have thus been encouraged to respect their partners’ choices and support them.

One of the outcomes of the project is a new One Man Can workshop module which educates participants about TOP and engages men to explore their role in family planning and the importance of respecting a woman’s right to make decisions over her own body.

You can read more on our TOP project here: