Girls and Young Women are disproportionately affected by the HIV pandemic. In South Africa girls and young women are 7 to 8 times more likely than their male counterparts to contract HIV. This is largely due to gender inequality, gender based violence and relationships of power imbalance.
Sandile's Journey - Learning about sexual health and rights is now easy as a game.
Sandile is a typical African teenage boy. Like his friends, he feels invincible! Nothing can go wrong! In the village where he lives elders are still held in high regard, and culture and tradition is everything. His friends are his primary source of information, together they are discovering sex and sexuality. They discuss their fears, needs and expectations. Sandile knows something about HIV and how to prevent pregnancy, but he is still scared of getting his girlfriend pregnant. They are both too young to raise a child and he has heard that condoms have holes in them. So how can condoms prevent pregnancy then, he often asks himself... She said she would take the “pill”, but his frieds say the pills will detroy her eggs and her waistline... He sometimes wished he someone else to share truths with him... Winter is coming and Sandile and some of his friends are preparing to take an important step entering the rights of passage to adulthood. Sandile has heard too many stories of boys dying at initiation schools... “If only I knew I would be safe, “ he keeps on thinking. “If only there was a way for me to make sure the initiation school I am going to is legal.”
Traditionally SRHR needs of boys and young men have received little attention. However, teenage boys and young men consistently require comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). Schools in Southern Africa, even if required to engage youth in CSE, do not always do it, due to either objections from parents or teachers not knowing how to break the ice on topics that are sometimes regarded as taboo or due to cultural misconceptions. Adolescents, are faced with challenges of (dis)orientation and discovery about sex and sexuality. This puts them at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV; and unplanned pregnancies with negative consequences such as dropping out of school. Youths engage in sex while young, including intergenerational and transactional sex – 10% of boys are coerced into sex at a young age. Youths more often than not have sex without a condom, or if they do, it is incorrect and inconsistent. This can be attributed to lack of proper knowledge on condom usage.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, approximately 2.7 million young people aged 15 to 24 years live with HIV, more than half of all HIV-positive young people globally. In the hyper-endemic countries Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, more than 1 in 10 young people are infected. Boys make up about one third of this number (900 000).
Boys must also deal with rights to passage – a sacred tradition as they progress to adulthood. Circumcision is part of this process and many boys die annually at the hands of unregistered service providers and illegal initiation schools. In South Africa alone 1000 boys died in 2015 during their initiation into adulthood.
Boys and young men must deal with a number of myths and misconceptions as the navigate their journey exploring sex and sexuality.
High alcohol abuse among boys and young men, contribute to high-risk sexual behaviour and compounds the threats they face.
CSE enables boys and young men to make informed decisions, behave responsibly and to learn how to communicate effectively with their partners. They need to understand the function and consequence of power inequalities; and learn to engage in ways that are respectful not only to their partners, but also to themselves.
The need for reinforcing good sexual practices and discouring unsafe sexual practices brings in the need for scientifically sound and human rights based information and supporting services for the young men.
Interactive games can address the needs of boys and young men and have been proven to be effective in educating youth.
How does it work?
USSD is a menu-driven, interactive mobile phone technology that does not require internet and works on any kind of mobile phone.
Sandile’s Journey is a scenario-based story that engages the end-user as that “friend” on the other side of the mobile device who answers Sandile’s questions and gives advice through a series of options that are either right or wrong.The game has 4 stages:
- Profile – allowing us to collect demographic data
- Sandile’s Journey, story-based scenarios with Questions and answers the user learns from
- Quizz to reinforce knowledge gained
- Survey to collect data
Users score points as they progress through stages, and weekly high scores are rewarded with airtime vouchers or other prizes. Every month a super prize is awarded to the monthly winner. These incentives motivate users to learn more.
Hivos and Gateway Health Institute successfully piloted a similar game aimed and girls and young women in Zimbabwe in 2016. Thoko’s Journey initailly focused on feminine hygiene and menstruation and is now being scaled up to include HIV/STIs, negotiating safe sex and child marriage.
Thoko and Sandile are boyfriend and girlfriend and although they have seperate journeys, for the sake of topical relevance, the games will be hosted on Gateways platform and can be played by both genders. There are also instances where their journeys intertwine, such as family planning, negotiating safe sex and alcohol and drug use. It is time for Sandile to have his own journey for the benefit of boys and young men
- Focus Group discussions with boys and young men aged 12 to 24 to determine their needs and opinions
- Developing 9 story boards
- Development and coding of the USSD platform to produce 3 games, 3 quizzes and 3 surveys
- Development and hosting of a database
- Data Management and protection
- Creating awareness of the game through socail media and youth-led groups.
- USSD Interactions – end-users play the game
- Collection of Data
- Analysis of data
- Sharing results with stakeholders
The Birth of Thoko’s Journey
Girls and young women in Southern Africa have very little knowledge, and receive even less information, about their everyday sexual and reproductive health and rights. Most of their lives are dominated by poverty, lack of sexuality education and a male dominated society that is rife with myths and misinformation, cultural beliefs that are not always based on fact and an education system that is generally failing them.
In steps Thoko, a young African girl from a small village somewhere in Southern Africa… Thoko is naïve, yet curious, she questions and does not necessarily accept everything she hears from teachers, friends or elders. Thoko is a typical adolescent, complete with issues, feelings and needs. Thoko is hungry for more information, for guidance to navigate the journey she is on as young girl and sometimes all she wants is to escape poverty and small-village life. She has a few special friends with whom she can openly discuss issues around feminine hygiene and menstruation. She has a boyfriend, Sandile, whom she likes, but is not sure of…
More importantly she engages YOU in her life, asks you for information and facts, pose questions and engages you to know the truth about menstruation which is often described as a curse by the society she lives in. You are her friend on the other side of a mobile phone, helping her know the truth through an easy to use, menu-driven technology called USSD - the beauty of USSD is that works on any kind of mobile phone.
You are the girl and young woman who shares Thoko’s life of poverty and misinformation. You are the girl and young woman who crave to know more on the sometimes-taboo topic of menstruation. You are the young girl who has never had the luxury of using sanitary pads and must make do with old rags and newspaper.
Together you and Thoko get to learn that menstruation is no curse, that you can get pregnant while menstruating (despite what your boyfriend says), that you are not dirty while having your period and that sugar daddies are not an option when it comes to getting money to buy sanitary pads…
What is Thoko’s Journey?
'You just need your handset - and interest - then you are in!' Thoko’s Journey is mobile phone edutainment: developed by Gateway Health Institute with the collaboration of technology partner Digitata, funded by HIVOS and used by Katswe Sistahood for their Happy Flow Campaign in Zimbabwe. The goal is to engage and educate girls and young women on the topic of feminine hygiene and menstruation. 'I was able to start conversation about menstruation with my daughter. I just gave her a phone and asked her to play.’
The Happy Flow Q & A tests the knowledge gained by players during Thoko’s Journey and serves to reinforce that knowledge. Thoko’s Journey includes Tell Thoko What You Think - a short survey to collect data from girls and young women through questions ranging from youth friendly clinic services, access to sanitary pads and their need to join Pachoto groups organized by Katswe Sistahood, among others.
What next for Thoko?
The success of Thoko’s Journey, and the excitement with which it was received by girls and young women in Zimbabwe, will see it grow to include more topics such as HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, teenage pregnancy, family planning and the need to complete school to escape poverty. Katswe Sistahood is now also engaging the deaf community in Zimbabwe: ‘Apparently - a friend saw our USSD game - and thought it was a great idea to engage girls in the deaf community - so we are doing it!’
In South Africa, Sandile is embarking on his own journey with a similar game to educate young boys on circumcision, initiation schools and other topics relevant to boys and young men. And then, who knows, maybe one day soon Thoko and Sandile’s journeys might collide somewhere outside a small village in Southern Africa….
- USSD – Unstructured Supplementary Service Data – is an easy to use, menu driven technology that is low-cost, does not need data and works on any kind of mobile phone.
- Gateway Health Institute is a South African NGO with the following mission: Our Motto, Your Health. Your Rights is core to what we want to achieve. We aim to have a positive impact on the health and rights of hard to reach and vulnerable populations through advocacy, community empowerment projects, knowledge management, research and innovative technology.
- Digitata Ltd. focuses on delivering intelligence in the mobile telecommunications and digital media arenas, enabling mobile operators, brands and agencies to offer their customers greater value and an enhanced user experience.
- Katswe Sistahood is a Zimbabwean Youth-led Group that focuses on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of girls and young women. Their Pachoto groups give adolescent girls the opportunity to discuss sexual health issues in an open and safe environment.
- Hivos is a major regional supporter and funder of initiatives that reach out to - and educate, adolescents on their sexual health and rights.
Mentoring Youth-led Groups in South Africa and Zimbabwe
In partnership with Hivos Southern Africa we are mentoring 3 youth groups: SAYWHAT, Katswe Sistahood and AFRIYAN on the use of social media and mobile phone technology in the use of effective advocacy campaigns with topics ranging from age of consent, safe abortion and feminine hygiene.
mHealth to empower girls and young women with ASRHR knowledge
GHI in collaboration with Digitata Ltd is developing a range of mobile messaging to reach and engage girls and young women on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights topics:
These efforts include games, quizzes and surveys based on a technology platform developed by Digitata.
Focus areas are:
- Teen sexuality
- Teenage pregnancies
- Healthy, Safe Pregnancy and dangers signs (relevant to all pregnant women including teenagers)
- Safe Abortion
- Feminine Hygiene and Menstruation
- Gender Based- and Intimate Partner Violence
Gender Based Violence
The GBV Prevention Network
Gender based Violence, often fueled by alcohol and substance abuse is a primary driver of the HIV pandemic in Southern Africa. We joined this vibrant network of activists and organizations working to prevent violence against women (VAW), united in our mission to uphold equality in our homes and communities.
The Network is over 500 members strong, working in 18 different countries in the Horn, East and Southern Africa to build a just and violence-free world for women.
Sexual violence in a nutshell
End Abortion Discrimination & Stigma
As part of the Inroads Networking Community we advocate for an end to abortion stigma & discrimination and access to safe TOP.
Girls and young women are more likely to delay seeking help for abortion-related complications than older women, and account for approximately 46 percent of the estimated unsafe abortion-related deaths globally. Girls and young women in every country—regardless of the legal status of abortion—are shamed for seeking or having an abortion. Communities around the world isolate, stereotype, and discriminate against girls and young women who need abortion services.
As abortion advocates, we know that globally, highly criminalized and unsafe abortion burdens girls and young women disproportionately. This stigma prompts secrecy, silence, and shame—all of which can lead to delayed care, increased health risk, and, in some instances, can result in life-threatening ways to end an unwanted pregnancy.
National Teenage Pregnancy Partnership
The National Teenage Pregnancy Partnership (NTPP) is a coalition of diverse stakeholders interested in advancing sexual health and rights, especially for girls/adolescents and young women in South Africa. NTPP stakeholders include non-governmental organizations, nonprofit research and advocacy groups, South African national government departments, broad-based empowerment organizations, university-based researchers and independent consultants.