This Youth Month, community-based organisations are focusing on supporting and protecting young women in South Africa who run the greatest risk of contracting HIV.
In South Africa, young women and girls aged 15-24 are the population group with the highest risk of HIV infection and gender-based violence.
A local initiative, DREAMS, which stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids-free, Mentored, and Safe, screen young women for such risk factors and puts in place measures to support them socially and medically.
In partnership with the National Department of Health and BroadReach Health Development, the DREAMS team runs in 18 sub-districts across KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
Overseeing the Dreams initiative, Dhirisha Naidoo says the team does vital work to reach and support vulnerable girls so that they can pursue their dreams and fulfil their potential.
The team offers HIV prevention medication as well as other clinical services for girls, including care for other sexually transmitted illnesses.
“We have instances where a girl might have been exposed to an incident of abuse, intimate partner violence or gender-based violence, and through the support of programmes such as this, is able to garner support, counselling and advice from others with similar experiences.
“In turn, many of the girls use this strength to support another girl going through something similar. They support each other in reporting violence, getting the help and services they need, and going to court. They become each other’s champions and support systems,” said Naidoo.
The initiative also works closely with aligned organisations to provide gender-based violence support services, post-violence care, family planning and mentorship on life skills and career opportunities.
A DREAMS programme ambassador in Mpumalanga, Sukoluhle Nhlabathi, said the young girls and women in her community now have a safe space to get help.
“In my community, many young girls are getting raped, and they don’t know where to turn to for help. I think the DREAMS programme can change how us girls react to situations. It has become a safe space for me to express myself,” she said.