Maretha Visser

A team of researchers recently evaluated the implementation of the Soul City Rise clubs for young women implemented in many communities throughout South Africa.

The RISE Young Women’s clubs strive towards a sustainable community-based approach which intends to reduce new HIV infections among young South African women (ages 15-24). It uses an innovative behavioural change communication approach to address the vulnerabilities of young women. The Rise project aims to promote positive behaviour change by combining:

  • mass media communication (i.e., Rise TV-talk show, social media, Rise magazine);
  • social mobilisation (i.e., peer support clubs and collaborative community activities to create a sense of social cohesion, resilience, self-efficacy) and
  • advocacy (i.e., capacity building to engage with the media and mentor RISE club members on sexual and reproductive health and related issues).

In two years’ time 1000 clubs of 10-20 young women were established involving about 18 000 young women in South Africa.  It followed a similar structure as the Soul Buddyz clubs in primary schools. A group of girls/women in different areas were inspired to form clubs that are similar to peer support groups where club members share aspects of their experiences and support one another with the challenges they experience. Additionally, they participate in community health promotion activities. They receive a monthly magazine addressing interesting age appropriate topics that can be used for group discussions. The functioning of the clubs is supported by mentors and co-ordinators from Soul City.

In my opinion there are a few characteristics of these clubs that make it effective to help young women develop skills and encourage positive development:

  • Club members take responsibility for the functioning of the club: The club members self-organise, take ownership, and are responsible to initiative in group activities, with some guidance of a mentor. This leads to high levels of participation and value of the groups.
  • Content focuses on the healthy development of women that goes beyond a narrow sexual health and HIV focus. It addresses risk factors (negative peer pressure, lack of role models, lack of sex education, mental distress, lack of social support) and promote the protective factors (self-respect, open communication with peers, health programmes, positive peer pressure, and back to school and future planning) that can influence healthy behaviour.
  • Evidence-based approach: Formative evaluation and inclusion of project beneficiaries’ (girls) inputs, continued consultation and piloting new initiatives contributes to high relevance of content of the project.
  • Strong partnerships with community-based organisations and government strengthen the impact of the programme. Clubs are involved in community initiatives against community ills and contributing to community upliftment projects.
  • Emphasis on peer support, role modelling and development of inter- and intrapersonal skills. The group uses various mechanisms relevant to young women’s lives to develop self-esteem, self-efficacy and well-rounded young women.
  • Innovative use of mass media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) and provision of high quality materials (Rise club magazine) that appeal to young women to reach them with health and behaviour change material. The content of the Rise club magazine is well researched and up to date to accommodate the diverse backgrounds and age range of club members. Continuous feedback received from club members enhanced the relevance of the magazine.
  • Inclusion of at-risk women from disadvantaged communities provide help for all young women and involve at-risk women in group activities to contribute to change and development.

“I have changed in a sense that I now make better decisions in life. I have stopped being a victim and can now call myself a survivor because a lot of things have happened in my life, but I have moved on and dealt with it by sharing my experiences with other people.” (Club member)

“I am more confident in myself now than before. I had so many issues… I would get into relationships just for the wrong reasons just that I can get something or survive. I would rely on men to provide for me but with RISE I have learned so many things like the importance of self-love, I respect myself and other people.”  (Club member)

“Members of the clubs were investing in themselves. The more the young women involved themselves with the project and their club, the more they were naturally developing individual leadership skills, overall self-improvement and the ability to identify personal strengths” (Provincial manager).

“I have also learnt a lot of things in the club that make me feel like I am able to keep control over my life because I know what challenges to expect as a young woman, and how to deal with them. I know about how important it is to love myself, and to believe in myself.” (Club member)

Through interviews with various stakeholders the value of the Rise women’s clubs was explored. Young women reported gains in life skills, leadership skills, social and economic abilities, such as the ability to help others and how to budget and plan a career plan.  They gained confidence to make healthy decisions and developed valuable life skills.  The following quotes illustrate something of this:Based on the evaluation many recommendations were made to improve the programme and its implementation.  We concluded that the RISE project brings a unique approach to sexual behaviour change for young women: innovative use of mass media, social mobilisation through active citizenship, peer support and learning. It is a multi-layered intervention involving various community structures aimed at changing the social ecology in communities to support an alternative lifestyle for young women. This makes the RISE project to stand out from others in the sexual reproductive health field. Soul City can capitalize on its strengths and grow the project into an impactful and sustainable project from which others can learn.

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