Who are we?
Afrika Tikkun is an organisation that was founded in 1994 with the goal of making a difference in the South African economy by developing and uplifting young people living in underprivileged communities. The Young Urban Women (YUW) Project is run by Afrika Tikkun under its empowerment programme, and is implemented in four of its centres in Johannesburg (Diepsloot, Orange Farm, Alexandra and Braamfontein). We work with young women 13 – 18 years old on issues of access to decent work, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and services. We also support their participation in leadership in three key ways – empowerment, campaigning and solidarity. The Project understands that the challenges to young women exercising bodily integrity and autonomy are multiple and interconnected. We have selected three focus areas that we understand to be critical to living a life of dignity. These are: bodily autonomy, which means being free to do as one wishes with her body; decent work, which speaks to finding work that supports a reasonable standard of living and casts a spotlight on the issue of unpaid care work that burdens young women and places unfair expectations on them in the home; and the empowerment of young women to advocate for their rights.
What was the issue?
Access to SRHR information and services: Young women reported receiving treatment that was unprofessional, unkind and, in some cases, insulting, from healthcare workers who at times refused to attend to them. Questions like: “why are you having sex so young?” or “does your mother know that you’re sleeping around?” or “why not just focus on books and not boys?” were common. These were not only unhelpful but discouraged other young women from seeking services. With little information being received from school, their parents or health centres, the gap was being filled by peers and online sources. Myths around sex and sexuality, such as not falling pregnant if one has sex in certain positions, or not getting HIV if you are a virgin, abounded among the groups. This resulted in a high rate of early and unwanted pregnancies. This problem seemed overwhelming to the young women because it had so many elements that they felt they did not know how to face. How would they all come together to agree on a way forward? How would their families view them if they advocated for their SRH rights? How would their peers outside of the program view them? Who would take them seriously? Did they have something to say that was important? These were some of the questions that arose for them.