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Afr J Reprod Health. 1997 Mar;1(1):45-55.

Urbanisation and women's health in South Africa.

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Department of Community Health, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.


For many decades the migrant labor system and the influx control legislation in South Africa exacerbated male-dominant patterns of migration typical of Africa. In recent years, however, and especially following the easing of influx control legislation in 1986, migration in South Africa has increasingly involved women. This paper reports on a study conducted in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, which explored the relationship between urbanisation and the health of women. The objectives were to relate age, migration, length of stay in urban areas, employment status, and occupation to the health, including reproductive health, of women living in Khayelitsha. Interviews with 659 women (61 households had no senior woman) revealed that women enjoyed considerable social support through their neighbours, church organisations, and women's organisations. Women who lived in the most deprived section of Khayelitsha enjoyed more support from their neighbours but reported less satisfaction with the area in which they lived. Child-care support was poor and a considerable proportion of the women were disempowered by their male partners. More than 90 percent of the women had access to antenatal care. Recent immigrants had more pregnancies, were less aware of screening for cervical cancer, less likely to have had a Pap smear, less knowledgeable about where to have a Pap smear done, and less likely to have heard AIDS. More women were aware of AIDS (86%) than Pap smears (45%). More than half of those of childbearing age used contraception, mainly intramuscular hormones (76%). A significant proportion (53%) of the women reported that they had had their first pregnancy as teenagers and younger, less educated women were more likely to have had adolescent pregnancies. Policy makers are confronted by a compelling need to redress well-known urban-rural inequalities in health care in South Africa. Policy attention must also be given to the increasing urbanisation of women and the growing health care needs in urban areas.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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