July 31, 2017
This blog post, written by Zizo Zikali, first appeared on What’sUpHIV as part of a series covering the 8th South African AIDS Conference.
Ntokozo Zakwe is a young woman from Hillcrest in KwaZulu Natal who was raped when she was only 11 years old. The man who raped her threatened her and said there would be consequences if she told anyone about it. Now, thirteen years later, she is ready to tell her story.
“The only way I found healing is when I joined DREAMS to help young girls who have been exposed to gender based violence,” says Ntokozo. “Most of them remain silent. The justice system is failing us… how can a person who has caused so much damage in a woman’s life serve only five years?” asks Ntokozo.
DREAMS stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe. This initiative runs in South Africa, and also Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the aim is to reduce HIV infections amongst adolescent girls and young women. Through DREAMS, Ntokozo receives counseling as a survivor of gender based violence and she also gets to hear about youth friendly health services in her area.
“There are a number of challenges faced by young women,” says Ntokozo. “We have been crying out about the unfriendliness of health care workers in public health facilities. There should more be Thuthuzela Centers, for example, the city of Pietermaritzburg is serviced by one center. I only opened up about the rape case last year after joining DREAMS.”
At the 8th Southern African AIDS conference we heard that unreported cases of gender based violence may hinder the government’s plan to end the HV epidemic by 2030. The conference outlined a range of tools for HIV prevention, but it is important that people know about them. Young women who are raped need to know about PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, which is antiretroviral drugs to take after risky sex or rape. At the conference, young women made their voices heard about the challenges they face and the risk of becoming HIV infected.
In South Africa it still difficult to get trustworthy statistics of rape and gender based violence. Many who have survived a rape never report it or they report it only much later like Ntokozo did.