Women's health in focus during women's month of August

High risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Unplanned pregnancy, often among teenagers. Inequitable access to reproductive and women’s health services including contraception, protection from HIV and STIs, and breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment. The world’s highest risk of rape, other forms of sexual violence and abuse. Cycle of poverty which drives women towards unsafe behaviours like transactional and intergenerational sex, alcohol and other substance abuse.

 Shared by many of South Africa’s 26 million women and girls, these realities drive the HIV infections, negatively affect women’s health in other ways and in so doing, reduce women’s prospects and potentials.

 “Today we launch the HEAIDS Women’s Health-Zazi Programme at the University of Johannesburg. The key goal of this higher education and training sector programme is to address the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV, STIs and TB,” said Mduduzi Manana, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training during the campaign launch. 

 “Yet, the programme’s significance and benefits will stretch beyond the higher education and training sector. Our young women are our mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and colleagues. South Africa can only prosper socially and economically if we enable young women to draw on their inner strength and nurture power and self-confidence.

 “Our sector is in a unique position to lead a movement that achieves this from the inside, as well as through links with all other spheres of South Africa,” said Deputy Minister.

The Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS) is a lead organisation in the higher education and training sector response to HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB and works with 23 higher education institutions and 50 further education and training (FET) colleges, as well as other partners, to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on youth and other communities.

 The launch of the HEAIDS Women’s Health-Zazi Programme coincided with the inaugural youth dialogue that HEAIDS intends to initiate with young people across universities and FET institutions.

 “Young people need safe spaces where they can tackle not only HIV and pregnancy, but other problems and solutions. The HEAIDS youth dialogues aim to provide such spaces. Our partners and experts on gender and health are ready to provide resources needed to advance explorations of both positive and negative practices in the area of gender and youth health and development,” said Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, Director of HEAIDS.

 “As we are in the Women’s Month of August, the first HEAIDS youth dialogue centred on women. Youth who participated are bold, creative and motivational; they are also diverse in their opinions on what the problems and solutions are.

 “But they are unanimous in their view that women and men are part of the same South Africa and that not one or other gender can alone prevent HIV or solve other difficulties that face us. This can only be done mutually – through dual protection where women and men have equal capacity and confidence to choose the type of HIV protection they use and to negotiate how, when and where sex happens.

 “When we start to balance the most intimate of our relationships, we will discover new places where we can improve and renegotiate how we relate to each other in families, classrooms, work places and communities,” said Dr Ahluwalia.