Who believes black women? Applying the right to health framework to undo epistemic injustice

Author: Tlaleng Mofokeng

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 34 Issue 2, 2023, p. 249 – 260


Epistemic injustice has a significant impact on black women’s experiences of healthcare. The failure of medical professionals to consider the experience of black women impairs the realisation of their right to health. Moreover, it embeds the disadvantages that these women face, undermining the realisation of substantive equality. This lecture considers how the medical community’s failure to believe and listen to black women constitutes an example of epistemic injustice. First, it discusses the prevalence of so-called “sex testing” in sports and how it is often used to target black female athletes as an example of epistemic injustice. In particular, it focuses on the impact of sex testing on the career of Caster Semenya. Secondly, it addresses how the forced sterilisation of black women in South Africa is another example of epistemic injustice in healthcare, negatively impacting their rights. Finally, it considers the criminalisation of sex work in South Africa as a third example of epistemic injustice that has substantially affected the rights of mostly black women.