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In South Africa, young women preventing HIV and violence say male involvement is key

On World Aids Day (December 1), we spoke to survivors and community changers in South Africa, who, as part of the UN’s HeForShe community-based initiative and a joint UNAIDS program, involve men and women in rejecting violence against women and HIV testing to examine and treat.

Until two years ago, Karabo Chabalala (28) and Sarah Baloyi (26), young women from Mamelodi – a congregation northeast of Pretoria in Gauteng, South Africa – led a very different life.

“I was in a very dark place. I had several sex partners and was part of a lifestyle that was not good or healthy for me,” says Baloyi. Her friend, Chabalala, says: “I had a lot of personal problems. I had a transactional relationship with an older man who insulted me, to finance my education and take care of my family.”

Their lives revolved around their involvement in the UN Women’s HeforShe community-based initiative aimed at improving attitudes and behaviors around gender-based violence and HIV.

“Karabo introduced me to HeForShe, a community that cares about each other,” says Baloyi. “The dialogues have shown me that I’m not alone in my mistakes and that I can change my life. I’m inspired to promote a safe and healthy lifestyle for young girls and to give them the same loving acceptance that I’m committed to. is.”

Chabalala adds: “Many young women do not open up at home about problems they are facing. These dialogues give us the space to express our thoughts and feelings and to ask questions about life.”

Led by the UN Women Partner, Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC), and funded by the United Nations Program on HIV / Aids (UNAIDS), the HeforShe Dialogues since 2018 have 115,000 men and women in seven districts ( Mamelodi, Klerksdorp, England) involved. Bojanela, Sedibeng, Johannesburg, Ehlanzeni and Cape Town) in the five provinces of South Africa.

“The dialogues are coordinated by 151 trained women and men exchangers, including young women like Baloyi and Chabalala, equipped with knowledge about HIV and violence prevention, unequal gender norms, the importance of HIV testing and compliance, responsible sexual behavior, and how socio-economic factors can cause HIV infections among men and women, ”explains Anne Githuku-Shongwe, representative of the UN Multilateral Office for South Africa.

‘Many women in Mamelodi have been victims of abuse or seen dead in their homes, often by men who [are alcoholic]”said Baloyi.

“All I feel is anger,” Chabalala says. “These men do not respect us. Women in our community are raped and murdered. Some men who commit these crimes are out on bail the next day.”

“There has been an increase in GBV since the COVID-19 exclusion,” says Baloyi. “Abusive partners are stuck at home and they are frustrated. They can no longer spend their time working or drinking with friends, and taking it out on their peers and children. This is especially the case in informal settlements, where families live in one- or two-room huts. ‘

South Africa is home to almost one-fifth of the people living with HIV worldwide and has an HIV prevalence rate of 20.4 percent among adults (15-19 years). In line with trends in sub-Saharan Africa, in 2019 women accounted for the majority of new infections in the country. Structural gender inequality, discrimination, violence against women and girls, and unequal gender norms continue to undermine women and girls’ efforts to prevent HIV and use HIV / AIDS services.

“The stigma surrounding HIV prevents people from seeking treatment. I have already met some elderly patients who are still afraid to go to clinics because they feel judged or embarrassed,” says Chabalala.

To increase the incidence of HIV testing, the variables partnered with 20 local HIV counseling and testing clinics in participating districts. They also enabled the issuance of HIV tests at community and church events and developed a referral system. In two years, the HeforShe initiatives resulted in 62 percent of those testing for HIV returning 36 percent and following their antiretroviral treatment. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people with HIV and people at higher risk for HIV infection face life-threatening disruption from health services.

Inspired by the positive impact of UN Women initiatives in communities and empowered by the change makers, Mamelodi members founded the national ‘Young Women for Life Movement’ (YWfLM), which grew to 2,035 members. With the support of the SACBC, the group is currently monitoring progress with 30 cases of sexual and gender-based violence and 17 cases of homicide in the justice system, as well as supporting the families of survivors. They also played an important role in organizing food supplies to the most vulnerable households in their communities during the COVID-19 exclusion.

“I started the Mamelodi chapter of the Young Women for Life movement,” says Chabalala. ‘Being part of this community of 200 powerful young women has taught me so many things and helped me grow. It has changed my life’.

“As a member of the YWfLM, I work with our local clinic and visit people living with HIV in our community to confirm that they are using their medication and to ask if they need help or supplementation,” says Baloyi. “We also have an HIV-positive support group that is now connecting online mainly due to the pandemic.”

Both Baloyi and Chabalala believe that men should be more involved in initiatives to improve attitudes and behaviors to prevent GBV and HIV. “Young men should not just be part of this conversation; they should have their own dialogues where they focus on how to change their mindset,” says Chabalala.

Baloyi adds: “Many more men have to fight with women in our struggle. Men have to join us in court and on the streets. They have to fight with us.”

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