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Empowering young girls at every level: the story of GirlLead SA

“Creating a network of young women who become leaders and transform their communities as well as the country.”

A classroom of South African students.

These are the words of Mahlogonolo Mashile, one of the founding team members at the GirLead SA alongside Nolukhanya Mqhayi. Both members are Masters students at Wits Business School in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Achieving greater heights

GirLead SA is a leadership intervention initiative for young girls in the peri-urban and rural areas in the Eastern part of Johannesburg. The project empowers young women through their education programmes, thereby making an impact in the reduction of unplanned pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS. GirLead SA’s programmes are designed to encourage behavioral change, instill an understanding for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and improve access for quality condoms for young girls.

One of the programmes launched is called Shot It Now – a youth-friendly health services referral system for the students who need HIV testing, contraception, pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis or counseling sessions. This service is offered by a young and friendly health care professionals to young girls in the community – without stigma or judgement.

Partnerships that work

Partnerships have been key to the success of GirlLead SA. Having Buhlebemfundo Secondary School in Tsakane as one of their key stakeholders has been a crucial element of their success. Their warmth and ability to open their doors to allow us to execute our programme was the first steppingstone to what we needed to succeed.

GirLead SA’s mentorship programme was a collaboration with Dynamic Youth Crew. Through this, the girls were invited to sexual and reproductive health rights talks. In addition to this, their academic excellence programme ensured the activation of computer labs, and in partnership with Girlcode, offered coding sessions. Many of the girls gained a love for coding and show great promise as they continue accessing these computer labs.

The Aspire Higher journey

GirlLead SA was one of the finalists in the Aspire Higher Competition. Being part of the Aspire Higher project helped the team amplify their core initiative and plans to extend the program to other provinces, namely – Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo using the same strategy.

The partnership with Aspire Higher also produced numerous positive results. Since then, GirlLead SA has activated a computer lab for all grades at Buhlebemfundo Secondary School, featured on local newspaper and radio station for positively impacting the future of young people, featured on the launch of ‘HIV AT 40’ programme which raises awareness for HIV on World AIDS day. They also managed to build good relations with stakeholders; allowing them to successfully and consistently deliver our programs on a bi-weekly basis. Moreover, through their referral system, they now have 15 students who have visited Tsakane clinic for contraception/HIV testing and other sexual health related matters.

Going forward, GirlLead SA plans to continue delivering services to more young women in South African communities, teaching them about sexual health and also the importance of STEM education.