She Conquers and Gender Disparities in South Africa

Categories: Hiv

In Durban, South Africa on July 20th, 2016, the She Conquers campaign was first unveiled to the public at the 21st International AIDS Conference. She Conquers is a three-year campaign for HIV prevention in girls and young women in South Africa. Its goals are to decrease the rates of new HIV infections in this population by 30%, decrease unwanted pregnancies by 30%, increase school retention by 20%, decrease sexual and gender-based violence by 10% and to increase youth employment by 10%. These goals are based off the realities that many girls and young women in South Africa face today.

In 2017, it was estimated that 2000 adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 were infected with HIV each week. It was also estimated that yearly 70,000 girls under the age of 18 were giving birth and that a third of young women who have dated have experienced violence from a partner. There are several drivers of these statistics and of the many ways in which the HIV/AIDs crisis in South Africa disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls.

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The cross-section of equalities on cultural, social and economic levels have contributed greatly to the vulnerability of this segment of the population. Worldwide, women account for more than half of the number of people living with HIV. Furthermore, girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 are twice as likely to acquire HIV as young men in the same age range. It is also important to factor in culture attitudes towards sex, especially outside of marriage.

Negative perceptions of sex outside of marriage in conjunction with restricted social autonomy drastically impacts the ability of women and girls to access sexual health services.

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The She Conquers campaign was born out of the need to counteract some of the systemic drivers of the severity of the HIV/AIDs epidemic in girls and young women. It was created to address the disproportionate burden of HIV on adolescent girls and young women in South Africa. The campaign sites young women and girls aged 15-24 as their primary target. They site men between 15 and 35 as secondary targets due to their roles in contributing to the cycle of new infections and pregnancies as well as sexual and gender-based violence. The goals for this short three-year campaign are ambitious. The first goal, as aforementioned, is to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDs by 30%. In raw numbers, that is reducing new infections from 90,000 annually to less than 60,000. The “Comprehensive Package of Interventions” is the strategy by which She Conquers hopes and claims that they will reach their campaign goals. The proposed interventions are designed to intervene at the biomedical, socio-behavioral and structural level.

According to She Conquers’ promotional material, on a biomedical level they wish to increase access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and information through youth friendly clinics and through Integrated School Health Program. Socio-behaviorally, they want to increase community mobilization and support and increase access to peer groups and clubs for issues like violence against women and girls, substance abuse, stigma and discrimination, and parenting. Lastly, on a structural level the campaign strives to address diasparities in terms of economic opportunities by increasing access to “grants and other forms of social assistance, bursaries and funding to increase access to post school education, and increase post-schooling options including employment, mentorship, and internships for youth.” The She Conquers campaign comes to a close this upcoming July and as that deadline approaches the progress towards the aforementioned goals will be measured and reported. What still remains unclear about this particular campaign though is whether its purpose is to spread awareness or to implement practical interventions. This confusion has persisted and was mentioned in the May 7, 2018 edition of Spotlight which is a publication “monitoring South Africa’s response to TB and HIV. When faced with the fact that confusion, as to the purpose of She Conquers, exists nearly 2 years into the campaign, one can’t help but begin to doubt the effectiveness of the campaign as a whole. Especially when it comes to whether or not it is connecting with its target population and whether they are spreading the right messages. In September of last year, a She Conquers billboard in Johannesburg resulted in social media backlash. “Who says girls don’t want to be on top?” the billboard stated, “Complete your matric, study hard and graduate!”

Many people bashed the billboard for its sexual innuendo and for how it failed miserably to address issues of violence and the lack of support for girls and their schooling. The billboard was seen as perpetuating tropes of hyper-sexualized black women and girls and ignoring the circumstances that make girls vulnerable by expecting them to overcome obstacles that are outside of their control. There also seems to be a large disconnect between She Conquers and the population it claims to service. When attempting to connecting with girls and young women between 15 and 25 social media is often considered to be an invaluable tool. Young people in South Africa, much like young people across the world are actively engaging with social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. One of the most disappointing aspects of the She Conquers campaign is how diminutive its presence is across all of those platforms. The campaign is without an Instagram page entirely, the Facebook link on their website is a broken link, and their Twitter page has only around 3,000 followers. With 2,000 new cases of HIV cases among young girls and women occurring weekly in South Africa that hardly seems sufficient. What’s even more disheartening is the average number of engagements per tweet on the She Conquers’ Twitter account. On average a She Conquers tweet receives 1 retweet and 3 likes. Social media is a great tool for spreading awareness and it’s disappointing that what could’ve been a great way to engage and mobilize youth has been woefully underutilized.

The She Conquers officially website is lackluster in a lot of ways as well. While the graphics and colors are fun and attention grabbing, there isn’t a lot of information on the site available to give people concrete ways to engage with campaign. The campaign’s event calendar for November 2018 is empty and when you move forward into December it’s empty as well with no mention of World AIDs Day which is on the 1st of the month. The best resource on the website is the link to the B-Wise Health app. The app is easy to navigate and can be used to search for clinics in provinces across South Africa. It also provides you with the clinic’s contact information, office hours, and the services provided. It’s surprising that the app, being as valuable of a resource it is, isn’t displayed more prominently on the She Conquers website. More than 3 billion South African rand from PEPFAR, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the German Development Bank (KFW) was invested into this campaign and South Africans have yet to see it yield results that are comparable to that investment.

The downfall of this campaign is that its primary target of girls and young women ages 15-24 weren’t included as the campaign’s primary partners. They weren’t given the chance through this campaign to voice their concerns and share their realities. This was evident even before the start of the She Conquers campaign when young women across South Africa were asked to vote on a campaign name. The winning name was never used. While it’s upsetting that a campaign with so much potential fell short in addressing the needs of a segment of the population that has too often been failed and let down, She Conquers failure is sure to be the foundation of another campaign, clinic, or individual’s success.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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 She Conquers and Gender Disparities in South Africa. (2022, Apr 18). Retrieved from

 She Conquers and Gender Disparities in South Africa essay
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