Girls Empowerment Clubs
The prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) and child sexual abuse (CSA) on girls in eSwatini is distressingly high. Gender inequality has led to extreme levels of exposure to violence and HIV among Swazi girls and women, which has serious consequences for their long-term health and well-being. The National Violence Against Children Survey (2007) showed that 48% of girls 13-24 years olds reported experiencing some form of sexual violence.
The alarming rates of GBV and CSA inspired the development of our Girls Empowerment Club (GEC) program in 2008 to help address this urgent issue.
As a pilot project for eSwatini, our Girls Empowerment Club program started in 6 schools, both primary and secondary levels, between the years of 2008 and 2009. Today, the GEC program is active in 46 schools across eSwatini and boasts a total of 2040 empowered and knowledgeable girls.
The GECs bring girls together on a weekly basis to hold guided discussions on issues including violence, HIV, sexual reproductive health, children’s rights, advocacy, leadership and gender roles and behaviours. The girls are supported by teachers in their schools who facilitate clubs and monitor and support activities. In addition to SWAGAA staff, girls are supported by mentors, who are young female- volunteers that have often graduated from previous clubs in their community.
Boys for Change Club
Boys are not immune to violence and its consequences. In the last month, 68% of boys reported physically violent discipline and 88% of boys and girls under the age of 14 reported psychological aggression or physical punishment in their homes. Regionally, we know that somewhat fewer than 1 in 7 boys experience sexual violence before age 18.
While for girls, violence in childhood can predict experiences of intimate partner violence in adulthood, for boys, violence in childhood is associated with increased risk of growing up to be potential perpetrators. This only reproduces the cycle of abuse and violence in eSwatini and leaves the next generation in the same precarious position as the current.
Understanding that changing attitudes and actions requires the support of both men and women as well as boys and girls, we developed our new Boys for Change Club (BCC) program in 2017. The BCC program works to mentor and inspire boys to adopt positive and transformative gender attitudes, practices and norms.
In February 2018, we completed a training workshop for young men aged 18-30 to become mentors in their communities to involve boys in the dialogue around gender-based violence, gender equality and human rights.
Through our Empowering Girls for Health and Wellbeing project, we will be implementing ten (10) Boys for Change Clubs in two regions of eSwatini, Lumbobo and Manzini. over the next two years. The ultimate goal is to have a Boys for Change Club in each of the schools we currently work in with the GEC program after the implementation process is complete.
Advancing gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health cannot be done by women and girls alone. Men and boys play an important role in advocating for social justice and transformative gender norms, though their engagement in these issues has often been overlooked. As an active member of the MenEngage Alliance – Africa, we have been working to promote the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality and ending gender-based violence. As the Secretariat for the MenEngage Network – Swaziland, we help to guide and support national effort, programmes and strategies that incorporate men and boys in eradicating gender-based violence and sexual abuse.