By Raye Mocioiu
In South Africa, girls and women are facing a local threat. With one of the highest incidences of rape and sexual violence on the continent, many girls, women, and boys feel unsafe walking to and from school or work.
BRAVE, a girl-led South African nonprofit, plans to change this reality. BRAVE works to create opportunities for girls, empowering them to share their stories with others and build networks of safety and support. They search for the resources, knowledge, experience, and safety that girls need to feel safe, strong, and lead with confidence.
“When you strike a woman, you strike a rock.”
This was the anti-apartheid slogan that inspired a group of ten-year-old girls from Manenberg, South Africa, to start a program that would make their gang-ridden community safer. With the help of human rights lawyer and children’s and women’s rights expert India Baird, the girls created an after-school workshop, where they could learn about their rights and how to stay safe. They called themselves Rock Girls as an homage to the quote, and as a way to solidify their stance as brave women, capable of making a difference.
And make a difference, they did. The group of young girls (and boys) banded together to create safe spaces in their communities. With the help of their teachers, parents, and caregivers, they built 58 Safe Space public benches around the city of Cape Town, even building a new school and inspiring a city-wide campaign. Their after-school program continued to run for two more years before expanding to other schools in the community.
Over the next five years, they were able to reach over 500 girls through their workshops, weekend programs, and holiday camps. They took their first road trip in 2015, where they rescued 18 girls from gang wars. That year, BRAVE also partnered with the Open Society Foundation and the Children’s Radio Foundation to create radio programs that advocate for safer communities – not just for girls, but for everyone.
Bravery Inspires Bravery
BRAVE does more than raise awareness for South African girls – they train young girls from urban and rural communities to advocate for themselves and their safety. They inspire confidence and stability in young women and then take them on road trips across their own countries to share their message with other girls.
Through the BRAVE initiatives, young women and girls can be agents of change in their lives. By banding together, they form a community of confident and strong women, and inspire others across the country, and beyond, to do the same.
By far the most meaningful aspect of the BRAVE road trips is meeting and interacting with other girls around the country, and the globe. The girls who participate in the trips are surveyed afterward, and the number one thing they would like to do more of is “meet more girls”. While they love to travel and the exposure to new experiences and cultures, they are most excited about connecting with their peers and finding ways to work together to create change.
—India Baird, Co-Founder
Now, BRAVE has helped change the lives of more than 500 girls. Through the BRAVE community and social programs, young women and girls can improve their critical thinking skills, gain self-confidence, and become resilient leaders.
Bravery in Crisis
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the BRAVE team is doing all they can to ensure that the girls stay connected and safe. Due to a lack of remote data or internet connectivity in their homes, the girls are unable to continue their studies or attend their classes. For many, the risk of dropping out is heightened due to family pressures and the high likelihood of school being out of session for an extended period of time.
Some girls are also living in unsafe homes, whether due to abuse, assault, or other risks to their physical and mental health.
Before the lockdowns started in South Africa, the BRAVE team took the time to educate the 60 Junior Girls in Manenburg about the virus and how to protect themselves and their families from the risk of infection. As well, BRAVE delivers weekly care packages with cleaning supplies, sanitary pads, and educational materials.
The Future of Brave
Once restrictions ease, BRAVE plans to launch an exciting new program, in collaboration with Cape Leopard Trust and Table Mountain Fund. The program, called the Daring Disas, will train girls as filmmakers and conservationists, with members sharing their stories about the insection of reproductive rights and climate change. As well, BRAVE plans to continue their after-school workshops and travel expeditions, hoping to add four more groups to their program by 2021 – that’s an additional 60 girls!
Brave is transitioning to a youth-led organization, and they are proud to be among the first of their kind in Cape Town and South Africa. Already, BRAVE is expanding its storytelling work by filming and sharing stories of girls ‘Staying BRAVE’ and being a girl during the on-going COVID-19 crisis. With the support of BRAVE partners like CTAOP, these stories will be shared on Mandela Day in July. The girls, like 13-year-old Tamia, below, will be able to make sure their voices are not lost amid the noise of the virus.
“COVID-19 is very difficult for us. Some people are dying and many people are thinking about what they can do about the situation. I’m worried about the people staying on the streets. What are they eating and where do they sleep during this time? I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family during this time and I’m really enjoying it. We are playing games together and also helping my mother cook. So far, the lockdown is not so bad. I just wish school was still open as I miss my friends. I’m hoping that everything goes well and that our doctors find a cure soon. I’m also thankful for the doctors and all other people that are working during this time. They are really doing a great job, I salute them.”
—Tamia Hendricks, 13