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“I wish to learn more so that I can then teach others.”

A Visit with Positive Women’s Network in South Africa

By Katherine Zavala, Thousand Currents’ Regional Director, Latin America 

Today I visited IDEX’s* longest partner in South Africa, Positive Women’s Network (PWN)**, in their new office in Johannesburg.

I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at a room full of women, as Prudence Mabele, PWN’s Director, introduced me to her office team and women participating in support groups from different townships around Johannesburg.

The Power of Support Groups

PWN’s core ongoing program has been the support group model, where women living with or impacted  HIV/AIDS come and engage in a safe space with other women to share their experiences and feelings on issues prevalent in their lives.

Today there are 5 outreach coordinators and 10 support group members.

They have come to start planning their activities for “16 Days of Activism”. Activities will include HIV/AIDS treatment literacy, awareness around the link between HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer, and awareness on violence against women.

Quality Health Care Remain a Challenge

Each outreach coordinator (key community liaison and facilitator of the support group) shared with me the different challenges they’ve seen in their communities.

The common theme? A lack of support from the health clinics towards women.

Sometimes the health clinics don’t have proper instruments.

Sometime the health clinics will limit their hours to provide important health services for women.

Sometimes the health clinic will loose the results of a pap smear test, wasting the time of a woman who normally would have waited hours before finally getting the test.

PWN is following up to see how can they support a  petition to be signed by women from the different townships and send it to the corresponding authorities.

Advocating for Women’s Needs in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

PWN has been very busy lately, with their regular activities as well as participating in the formulation of the government’s next four-year plan to fight HIV/AIDS. This will be launched on World AIDS Day (December 1st) in Port Elizabeth.

Unfortunately, despite surmounting compelling evidence of this disease’s impact on women, it was still a struggle to make sure that women’s true needs and voices were incorporated in the plan.

“Women needs are only addressed when they are pregnant, but the time before and after their pregnancy, gives them no recognition under HIV/AIDS policy,” says PWN, as just one example of many of how women are not fully recognized.

Making PWN More Visible

Prudence is regularly invited to many conferences each year to share her expertise in HIV/AIDS.

And because of the strong staff and volunteer she has formed since IDEX’s last visit, she is able to focus her time on making PWN more visible, sharing PWN’s learning and practices with a wider, global audience.

Earlier this year, IDEX supported PWN to share their experience in HIV/AIDS at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal.

An Inspiring End to My Visit

As I ended my meeting with these incredible women, many of them involved for 10 years, I asked one of the brand new support group members what they’ve liked being part of the support group model.

“I’ve been able to meet women with the same age as me, so I felt safe,” she responded “I wish to learn more so that I can then teach others.”


*Thousand Currents changed its name from IDEX in 2016

**After 13 years, Thousand Currents ended its partnership with Positive Women’s Network in September 2018.

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