Despite a worrying lack of faith in the police and in government, faith in a higher power seems to be in abundance. Of the odd 16 000 women surveyed in She Says, an overwhelming 82% said that they pray. This number is highest among women aged 22 to 25 (85%) and lowest among those between the ages of 51 to 55 (74%).

The number of respondents who associated with the two statements: I believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion and I believe in LGBTQ rights are significantly lower.

43% are pro-choice and just 42% said they believe in gay rights.

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Interestingly enough, the age bracket least likely to support the right to choose an abortion is the youngest one – 18 to 22 and the group most likely to support it is those from 51 to 55.

This relationship is inverse when it comes to supporting LGBTQ rights with the likelihood highest in young women 18 to 25 and then declining steadily with age. But the number is still higher than the male group where less than 1 in 3 believe in a women’s right to choose and only 1 in 4 support LGBTQ rights. 

While it is rather alarming that these unsupportive attitudes are so prevalent, we must remember that our constitution upholds and protects women’s reproductive rights as well as LGBTQ rights.

W24 spoke to Jennifer Thorpe, independent feminist writer and researcher, and she had the following to say: 

“The right to make decisions about your sexual and reproductive health is a constitutional right that all South Africans have. This is important, because regardless of whether South Africans are pro-choice, we have a duty to promote the rights of the constitution, including the right to make such important decisions. The laws around termination of pregnancy make clear that women can make this choice, and that decisions around women's bodies and reproduction are theirs to make alone.”

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Does religion have an impact on people’s political attitudes? 

It would definitely seem so. If we filter the results by those who pray and those who don’t, we see a significant change in attitudes.

Women who don’t pray are almost twice as likely to support a woman’s right to choose an abortion and 1.6 times as likely to support LGBTQ rights.

...the bottom line is that practicing your religious beliefs is only permitted to the extent that it does not hinder someone else's constitutional rights.

When asked whether she thought it was surprising that SA women were so much more likely to pray than to support constitutional rights such as abortion and gay rights, Thorpe had the following to say: 

“South Africa is an extremely religious society and at times religion can imply conservative views and beliefs. Access to termination of pregnancy, in particular, is one of the more contentious issues in the clash between religious beliefs and constitutional rights."

However, at the same time, religion can also temper violent or hateful beliefs. A recent study by the Other Foundation found that moderately religious people were more likely to support human rights for others such as gay rights.

“I don't think it's surprising that women are likely to pray, or that their community or religious beliefs would make them critical of termination of pregnancy services. But the bottom line is that practicing your religious beliefs is only permitted to the extent that it does not hinder someone else's constitutional rights, and so I'd hope that whilst they might not be pro-choice, they would not prevent anyone's access to sexual and reproductive health services.” 

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Women who pray are almost 20% more likely to believe in marriage than their non-praying counterparts. Yet, the number remains the same for women who admit to have received money or gifts in exchange for sexual acts. 

This is the third article in our series unpacking the results of our She Says Female Nation Survey. See the first one about sex here and the other about #metoo and more here.

READ MORE: She Says Female Nation Survey results