Towards building healthy women and economies

2011-03-17 10:14

Employees of the Global Business Coalition (GBC) on HIV and Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria as well as executives from affiliated companies and organisations, recently visited loveLife’s Orange Farm Y-Centre as part of their Healthy Women, Healthy Economies initiative, writes Thandiwe McCloy.

Just south of Johannesburg, Orange Farm is a community with high levels of poverty, HIV/Aids and unemployment. It could really benefit from the support of organisations like the GBC, which joins the corporate sector, governments and civil society together to fight HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Launched by the GBC on January 6, the Healthy Women, Healthy Economies initiative is a partnership between the GBC and the US State Department Office of Global Women’s issues.

A two-year initiative, the goal of Healthy Women, Healthy Economies is to bring together leading corporations, governments and NGOs to lower HIV infection rates, improve maternal health, reduce gender-based violence and better women’s and girl’s access to education and economic empowerment.

The initiative also engages men and boys in achieving its aims.

While in South Africa, staff from the GBC offices in Johannesburg and New York, as well as GBC member organisations and companies visited various Johannesburg and Cape Town-based initiatives from 7 to 11 March.

“The reason for our visit to South Africa is to look at ways the country’s private sector can support the concept of Healthy Women, Healthy Economies,” explains Ilze Melngailis, the GBC’s Vice President of Partnerships and Impact Initiatives.

“Corporates can engage in the programme in various ways, such as employee and/or community engagement, workplace programmes, philanthropy, advocacy and through its core competencies.”

Earlier this month, the team visited the loveLife Orange Farm Y-Centre to learn about various loveLife initiatives and look at ways to implement Healthy Women, Healthy Economies within the programme.

The Orange Farm Y-Centre is one of 18 loveLife Youth Centres countrywide, which provide young people with sports and arts and culture activities as well as life skills and sexual health information.

Included in their stopover was a tour of the Y-Centre, which Nokuthula Zwane of Nike South Africa’s Corporate Social Investment division found insightful. “Nike uses sport to alleviate HIV/Aids among young people,” she says.

“It was good to see another youth development initiative involved in the fight against this disease.”

The day also featured a focus group, which looked at young people’s relationships, their dreams for the future and what they felt were challenges to achieving them.

While the group was mostly made up of girls and women aged between 12 and 20, older people also joined the discussion.

Fia van der Klugt, Policy Officer HIV/Aids in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands, asked the group if they’d heard about female condoms.

While they knew about them, they said they were scarce to find. They also noted that it was easy to access male condoms and sexual health information.

The group of young people was asked why teenage pregnancy is so high if this is the case.

One participant explained that it’s because some guys don’t want to use condoms, while girls are sometimes too afraid to access contraceptives.

But another girl noted that having young peer educators at some clinics made it so much easier to access contraceptives and discuss sexual health concerns.
With regard to how the group felt about achieving their ambitions, they generally perceived the future as bright despite their circumstances.

During the discussion, Miranda Naphosa (20), said she dreams of becoming an advocate and is determined she will. “I have applied to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to finance my studies,” she said. “I really hope I get to study law.”

One of loveLife’s youth development initiatives, Connected! could work well with the Healthy Women, Healthy Economies initiative.

With the aim of building the analytical, innovation and management skills of 5 000 marginalised youth countrywide, Connected! will guide them to look for opportunities, create opportunities and inspire a positive attitude that will contribute to a lower tolerance of risky behaviour, which may lead to HIV infection.

As loveLife CEO Grace Matlhape, explains: “We have come to realise that many young people put themselves at risk of HIV not because they don’t know how to protect themselves, but because they have very little reason to protect themselves.”

Aside from the Y-Centre, the team visited various other initiatives which included the South African Breweries Limited’s (SAB) Tavern Intervention Programme (TIP) for Men, based in Duduza on Gauteng’s East Rand.

The project includes providing a platform for men to talk about their problems rather than use alcohol to numb painful feelings. In communities across the country, high rates of alcohol abuse are a major cause of crime and domestic violence.

While at this programme, the team listened to a speech by Ms Lulama Xingwana, Minister for Women, Youth, Children and Persons with Disabilities, where she urged men to be a support structure to their wives.

In Cape Town, they visited mothers2mothers, an NGO that helps prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Speaking about the trip, Ilze says: “I’m really impressed by the dedication shown by people in fighting HIV and bettering education and maternal health.

It’s important for the corporate sector to extend their support so organisations can continue their work.” 

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