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“SHE CONQUERS”: HIV Prevention in Girls and Young Women in South Africa

At the margins of the at the 21st International AIDS Conference, held in Durban, a satellite session entitled “HIV Prevention in Girls and Young Women in South Africa,” was held on 20 July 2016. At the session the Honourable Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South African Health Minister unveiled and announced the new name of the campaign targeted at young girls and women. 

The name, “She Conquers” was recommended by 22 year old Mothegi Mphahlele from Limpopo, who won the completion following suggestions from 100 girls from across South Africa. She said that it was inspired by women who face challenges each day and strive to conquer them (challenges).

This campaign was developed with technical support from UNFPA Country Office in South Africa. It focuses on reducing the high levels of new HIV infections among girls and young women, teenage pregnancies, school dropout rates, sexual and gender-based violence, unemployment and a shortage of economic opportunities among girls and young women in 51 most affected sub-districts. Showcasing the synergistic efforts by the National Department of Health, UNFPA and other partners, the Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Honourable Buti Manameli acknowledged UNFPA as a strategic partner in the campaign.

In a country with a high number of HIV/AIDS prevalence among girls and young women, South African women are now taking charge of the fight against the pandemic and are participating meaningfully in the implementation of the campaign. According to statistics from the South African National Aids Council, HIV prevalence among girls and young women aged 15 -24 has consistently been found to be too many times higher in comparison to boys and young men of the same age group, contributing over 30 per cent towards new infections.

The campaign will tackle the high levels of HIV infection, provide increased access to sexual and reproductive health information and services through adolescent and youth-friendly facilities. It also aims at strengthening school health initiatives and strengthen community peer outreaches, as well as support programmes for parents on how to talk to with their teenage girls and boys about their sexuality. loveLife, a national youth- driven NGO in South Africa, commended UNFPA support for the digital media clinical widget (loveLife mobi.site) that hepls young people locate clinics in various locations. The first-of-its kind in the world, the mobile application rewards young people for taking the right steps towards healthy and positive living.

The Minister of Health in South Africa, Honourable Aaron Motsoaledi emphasized the need to link young people to opportunities to empower them as one of the strategies to prevent new HIV infections. He also emphasized that boys and men between the ages of 15- 35 will be engaged in the campaign as they contribute largely to the cycle of new HIV infections, teenage pregnancies and sexual and gender- based violence.

Emphasising this point, the First Lady Madam Tobeka Zuma said that the economic empowerment of girls and young women will position them at the centre of the economy.