On the 14th of August 2021, Africa Unite in partnership with Justice and Peace Ministry conducted a women and girls dialogue at Albini Girls High School in Ntshongweni, Hammarsdale. Albini High School is a public Catholic Church High School located 43km at the outer of West Durban. The main purpose of the session was to commemorate Women’s Month, raise awareness on girls to women conflicts and teenage pregnancy issues, map ways on how to address these issues, and find strategies that young people can use in resolving conflicts within their respective communities. The session was attended by 20 (4 males and 16 females) participants due to COVID-19 regulations.
In opening the session, Kalie focused on the dangers of teenage pregnancy and raised that sexual abstinence was a key component of the strategy to address unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV among youth in KwaZulu Natal. He acknowledged that the contextual pressures make abstaining from sex amongst teenagers a formidable task for the poor youth leaving them vulnerable. He added that despite the challenges that teenagers face, they should always remember the foundations of the Catholic Church doctrine which emphasizes sex after marriage.
Furthermore, it was raised that in South Africa teenagers in poor settings have an increased risk of initiating sexual intercourse early. Having multiple sexual partners, experiencing unintended pregnancies, and contracting sexually transmitted infections. To curb this, the participants raised the issue of abstinence and guarding themselves against peer pressure. Furthermore, it was added that poverty provokes teenagers, especially females into sexual relationships to support themselves and their families. Beyond low incomes, it was highlighted that this was a result of high unemployment, unstable wages which were exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the recent unrest, crime, substance abuse, poor educational facilities, and the lack of recreational facilities in these settings. Briefly, poor young people are less likely to abstain from sexual intercourse even though abstinence was one of the most effective strategies for preventing both unwanted pregnancies, STIs including HIV.
During the dialogue, participants acknowledged that sociocultural changes prompted by urbanization and increased exposure to western norms have significantly affected family life leading to conflicts between women and girls at home. To reduce the conflicts, the participants indicated that bridging the gap was pivotal and fixing broken communications. In communicating, girls raised that mothers should revisit the way they speak to them as most talking was shouting leading to girls to fear their parents. On the other hand, women raised that it was important for girls to develop listening skills and respect for the elders as this was lagging within households.
The session also looked at how women and girls can take leadership in addressing community challenges. The words of the participants revealed that initially they viewed leadership in traditional terms and were hesitant to identify themselves as leaders or to see themselves included within their concepts of leadership. Following the dialogue, their view of leadership expanded and diversified in a manner that allowed for the inclusion of themselves within it. They spoke with greater strength and confidence and felt better positioned and inspired to act as leaders.
The session also opened wounds as some felt that at home they were not heard and that some felt their children had deserted them after attaining their school degrees. Moreover, some acknowledged that the rebellion indicated by their children may be emanating from the household domestic violence environment as some husbands came home drunk and beat their mothers. With this, women have in turn bottled the pain and do not politely talk leading to resentment by their children. Such instances revealed that healing was needed for both women and girls as most of these come from broken and wounded families.
In conclusion, it was suggested that more sessions are needed with women girls and that more attention must be given to healing sessions. Moreover, training on conflict resolution was raised as one of the important skills that both women and girls needed as the conflict was inevitable. At the same time, sessions on bridging the gap between girls and women were recommended to build peaceful homes and communities.