The Department of Higher Education and Training hosted the Higher Education AIDS (HEaids) Conference, an initiative aimed at raising intricate issues involving the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The conference was not only focused on the pandemic as a stand-alone issue, but also focused on other social phenomenon that continue to plague youth in society particularly the empowerment of young woman, which was the main theme that the conference was centered around. Issues such as the demographic distribution of HIV and AIDS in rural and outskirt communities and gender-based violence were also highlighted.
On the 10th June, the She Conquers Dialogue took place where over 1600 youth delegates from all walks of life in South Africa from schools, TVET colleges, universities, communities and Activators joined hands to openly discuss with national leadership and various stakeholders issues that are challenging the youth today. Challenges identified were issues of economic empowerment, sexual and gender-based violence, youth empowerment, and social determinants of HIV, transactional sex, poverty alleviation, women empowerment, gender dynamics, blessers/blessees challenges, youth health/wellness and youth education.
Opening the dialogue was the first lady of the republic Thobeka Madiba Zuma, who purported her opinions mainly on the empowerment of women and the elimination of gender-based violence. She did emphasise the need of gender positive media in tackling the challenges the female faces in the face of their male counterparts. She further alluded to the fact that there should be changing cultural traditions that are complimentary and effective in changing the negative dynamics facing our societies today. She spoke passionately of her organisation which attempts to eradicate societal ills and mishaps that continue to plague the trajectory. Furthermore she alluded to the fact that her organisation provides an opportunity for the youth to learn and grasp fundamental issues around the pandemic that disturbs the family structure when parents succumb to it.
Furthermore, Activator and Chairperson of She Conquers, Ms Lerato Morulane who was part of the distinguished panel highlighted the challenges women continue to face in society. On the issue of women, she described being a women in this country as “fearing for our lives, and fearing the so called protector (men).” She alluded mainly to the dominant factor of men over women, which puts men in a position of privilege at the expense of women and outlined its unjustified outcomes resulting in gender-based violence, sexual violence and the prevalence of patriarchy which continues to uplift men to the position of superiority and relegate women constantly to inferiority. She did continue on the need of further women empowerment especially young women in institutions of higher learning. She made clear the issues of sexual harassment within these spaces of higher learning as problematic which has gone as far as lecturers exchanging sexual favours for “favorable marks.”
Fellow Activator, Isa Mdingi who is also part of the UNFP advisory panel shared the same sentiments during question time when she spoke of the fact that the challenges facing women today are reminiscent of the patriarchal society that South Africa is today. She emphasised that the discussion that young people should be having when engaging in issues that women continue to face are to be aimed at the “elephant in the room” which is the system of male privilege, the system of patriarchy which is very oppressive towards women and is rooted deep down in the family structures and society in general. Dealing with the patriarchal system speaks directly to educating kids from a very early age, the interrogation of the family structures and the way they are set up.
Activators also had the opportunity to interact with young people and the youth of various walks of life to hear their inputs and thoughts on the discourse that was on the agenda. Scelo Sibiya brought forward the concerns of the LGBTIQ society. He did speak of the fact that while women continue to be vulnerable in society, the plight of the LGBTIQ community continues to be sidelined, in other words largely excluded from platforms that are critical in addressing their concerns, which are in more ways than one the same issues that women are going through. The LGBTIQ community continues to be sidelined in the peripheries, with the use of pseudo moral reasoning and cultural rhetoric’s. They are deprived economically because of their sexual orientation which is considered inferior and against norms and values that societies are built upon, and they are socially excluded, branded, and politically stigmatised. The conference highlighted many crucial issues around women, and one thing that became apparent is that the issues that women go through are the same as the issues that the LGBTIQ community is going through on daily basis. But the silence is too loud when it comes to coming up with feasible solutions to all these issues, the involvement of men, educating them about those issues are also highly important. One thing is clear, without coming up with solutions and proper plans of action, conferences like this will not solve the issues that our sisters are being subjected to. #SHE CONQUERS #UKUHLONISHWA KWABASHA,UKUHLONISHWA KWABESIMAME.