They followed her home from school, but she didn’t see them. They waited until no one was around and crept into her home, but she didn’t see them. They took turns raping her, but they made sure she didn’t see them. In one afternoon her world changed, and she never saw it coming. As a society that often turns a blind eye to gender-based violence, we risk not seeing her.
Disempowered. Defenceless. Isolated. This is the daily reality of many adolescent girls and young women around the world, including here in South Africa; a country plagued by violence, where femicide and rape are uncomfortably part of its culture and where inherent rights and freedoms are denied to the most vulnerable.
Making sense of rights and freedoms
We are all born with basic human rights that are protected by our Constitution, but how do we celebrate human rights and freedom in South Africa, when a woman’s right to human dignity is violated by not having the freedom to choose what happens to her own body? Or when a 16-year-old girl’s right to education is disregarded because she heads her household and has to abandon school and turn to sex with older men to feed her younger siblings?
Life, freedom and security, privacy – these we recognise and relate to, but what about other rights and freedoms, such as: having the right to access preventative and curative health services in time and without judgement, the right to access menstrual sanitary products, having the freedom to choose and take contraceptives or having the power to choose your sexual partner?
It’s time to open our eyes to the ugly truth that for many of our most vulnerable citizens, they have no rights or freedoms because they have no choice.
Empowering young women
“Taking away someone’s power of choice is a human rights violation,” says Sibongile Monareng, Head of Programs at Shout-It-Now, a South African non-profit company that empowers youth to own their sexuality and health. This innovative social enterprise provides their clients with free integrated, mobile, community-based HIV prevention and other sexual and reproductive health services, gender-based violence services, and life skills programs. Their services are currently available to clients who live in communities in Gauteng and the North West provinces.
“On a daily basis we speak to clients who have no say in their education, health, finances, sexual choices or future. And, while our clients all have different backgrounds, challenges and sometimes painful stories, the common thread we see most is the feeling of disempowerment,” says Monareng.
One Shout-It-Now client is a sixteen-year-old girl who got married but cultural norms don’t allow her to use a contraceptive, while another client’s husband makes all of the family decisions because he feels entitled to, as the financial provider. A teenage client whose unfaithful partner refuses to use a condom is now HIV positive and pregnant, while another young client is responsible for her younger siblings and has multiple older partners so she can financially support the family.
Teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and HIV infection are often linked, as many survivors are forced by older partners to have sex and are denied the choice to use a condom and/or contraceptive. Pregnancy, as a result of this lack of choice, is disempowering and a burden for many of these young women. The society we live in condones gender inequality, where women are considered less important and thus less powerful. In addition, young women are regarded as children, with little choice over their bodies and little say about their futures.
“Not having a choice in how they live their life is a freedom that’s denied to many of our clients. Supporting and empowering each young client to make their own decisions is at the heart of what we do at Shout-It-Now, because we believe it’s your human right to be able to make choices that affect your life, your relationships and your future. This is why we’ve created an exciting new membership group that we’re very proud of, called Eyakho Mo’ghel,” says Monareng.
Driving behaviour change
Launched on 1 December 2021 (World AIDS Day), in five districts across Gauteng and the North West, Eyakho Mo’ghel provides a community, support, information and services to adolescent girls and young women who are between 15-24 years old. Eyakho Mo’ghel means “it’s yours, girl” and it was created to empower young women by encouraging, rewarding and celebrating healthy behaviour.
To join this member-only community, a Shout-It-Now client must be enrolled in a life skills program and then take up one of its sexual reproductive health services, such as HIV testing, PrEP (the HIV prevention pill) or contraception. By combining these effective HIV prevention programs and services, clients get the benefits of a comprehensive offering that can drive healthy behaviours, strengthen empowerment and set them on course to reach their full potential.
One of the benefits of Eyakho Mo’ghel membership is access to the data-free iSHOUT! app, where these young women can find reliable health and life information, and can access comprehensive HIV prevention and sexual reproductive health services and information. For tech-savvy young clients, the app provides easy access to other Eyakho Mo’ghel benefits and connectivity to a supportive community of their peers.
Additional benefits of the app include:
- A service locator to help find youth-friendly service providers in their communities
- Appointment requests and reminders for PrEP, HIV testing and sexual reproductive health visits
- Chat forums that are supported by weekly messaging
- Easy-to-understand information on a range of health-related topics
- Access to opportunities and events provided by a network of Shout-It-Now’s external partners
- Surveys to continuously seek feedback from clients that can improve Shout-It-Now’s services
By being a member of Eyakho Mo’ghel and accessing services, clients are rewarded with points that can be spent in a marketplace. Items available range from menstrual cups and umbrellas to perfumes and smart watches. A small business development opportunity is also available for entrepreneurial members, where they save their points and purchase a cosmetics starter pack. They receive short training and guidance on how to sell and repurpose these products.
However the clients choose to use their points, the end goal is that young women feel empowered, supported and have the freedom to choose, not only the way they spend their points, but also the services they access to earn those points.
A community of support
One of the biggest benefits of Eyakho Mo’ghel is access to a community, where members feel heard, safe and empowered by one another – an environment where young women feel that they finally belong somewhere. Through positive peer pressure, clients are also encouraged to engage in healthy behaviour.
“Shout-It-Now provides a safe space where our clients can talk freely, without fear, discrimination or judgement. We get real and tackle the uncomfortable topics, because these are the ones that are important, these are the conversations that matter. We know our clients deserve so much more – often we need to help them realise that too.”
“We live our name and believe that we all need to shout – loudly – to tell these young women that it’s their right to make their own choices without being controlled, coerced or judged. It’s their right to decide what’s best for them and their future. Freedom of choice is a human right, and that right is theirs,” says Monareng.
Eyakho Mo’ghel currently has more than 1 500 members, with that number growing daily. For an overview of what Eyakho Mo’ghel is all about, watch the video here https://youtu.be/K_kK1v89Or4
For more information or to partner with Shout-It-Now, call +27 10 020 6021 or visit https://shoutitnow.org/. To support Shout-It-Now by making a financial contribution, visit https://shoutitnow.org/donate/.