Women's health and empowerment programme

About the programme

This is an advocacy, mass media and mobilisation programme that addresses gender inequalities by encouraging young women to draw on their inner strengths, power, and self-confidence and to know themselves and what they stand for in order to guide their life decisions. The programme addresses issues such as rape; sexual violence; dual protection; breast and cervical cancers and STI screening; contraception; and transactional sex. It operates as a collaborative partnership with the DHET, the DoH, the Department of Women, the Department of Social Development (DSD), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/PEPFAR, the Global Fund, Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa (JHHESA), and SANAC. The goals of the HEAIDS Women’s Health and Empowerment Programme are aligned with the SANAC strategy for accelerated HIV prevention among girls and young women in South Africa. They focus on reducing HIV incidence and prevalence in women between the ages of 14–24 and draw from the ZAZI (Know yourself) Programme, developed for the DSD.
The programme recognises that to be effective, a combined approach to HIV prevention is necessary and should include a mix of biomedical, behavioural and social/structural approaches. The principle focus of the programme is therefore on educating, creating awareness and providing
young women with relevant, updated and appropriate information, knowledge, and skills that will enable them to take informed decisions as they traverse the formative years of their lives.

The programme adopts seven key strategies to achieve its goals:

1. Increase the age of sexual debut: Vulnerability to HIV and unplanned pregnancy is directly linked to sexual debut. The programme focuses on increasing the age at sexual debut to limit the extent of exposure to vulnerabilities that flow from physiological and biological risk factors
for HIV infection.

2. Reduce unplanned pregnancy: One in eight sexually active girls and young women in South Africa have been pregnant in the past year. Single parenting increases economic and other vulnerabilities for young mothers and poses downstream risks for HIV and STI infection. The programme encourages young women to proactively access contraception and family planning and other reproductive health services.

3. Reduce sex with older male partners: The three-fold higher HIV prevalence in young women compared to young men of the same age indicates exposure to high-risk older men who are HIV positive. Disempowerment and vulnerability to coercion and physical violence flows directly from skewed and unequal expectations in relationships.

4. Reduce multiple sexual partners: Multiple sexual partners are acknowledged as a key driver ofnew HIV infections.

5. Increase consistent condom use among young women: Condoms are effective for averting new HIV infections and STIs.

6. Increase uptake and retention of eligible young women on anti retroviral therapy (ART): ART not only contributes to the health and wellbeing of young females, but also impacts on HIV prevention by reducing HIV transmission to HIV negative young men.

7. Increase awareness, screening and referrals for cancers commonly found in women: By increasing the number of young women who screen for breast and cervical cancer and detecting the condition early, greater treatment success is achieved.

The programme encourages the utilisation of sexual and reproductive health services, and empowers young women in order to prevent physical and sexual violence and avoid statuary rape. Young women are educated on the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse and the fact that such abuse could increase the risk of HIV infection due to the increased risk of casual sex, unprotected sex, and having concurrent sexual partners. The programme encourages young women to access HIV counselling and testing services and to learn their HIV status. It also provides information on the benefit of male circumcision and other bio medial prevention methods as they become available. The programme supports the rights of young women to sexual determination and promotes healthy and equitable relationship values that address the responsibilities and accountabilities of both partners.