We developed our Bright Futures programme to provide a holistic schools-based educational approach to empowering girls, increasing their understanding of sexual and reproductive health, reducing pregnancy rates, and keeping them in school.
No young girl should have to compromise her education because of the obstacles and vulnerabilities she faces. Unfortunately in many of the poor and rural communities in South Africa, this is exactly what is happening.
In South Africa, an estimated 182,000 teenagers become pregnant each year; most are still in school. The need for girls’ education is startling - it is estimated that nearly 60% fewer girls would become pregnant if they completed secondary education. The prevalence of issues such as teenage pregnancy, rape, sexual abuse, HIV and AIDS, menstruation and lack of private toilet facilities mean that many teenage girls feel they have no choice but to drop out of school. The impact of this is perpetuated throughout their lives as they become marginalised both politically and economically from the rest of society and struggle to gain employment or have a voice in their relationships or community.
We partnered with the Small Projects Foundation to develop a programme that would provide girls with the skills they need to lead a healthy and fulfilled life in the context of great poverty. In 2014/15 we debuted the programme in 25 schools. On witnessing its positive effects on their female peers, boys asked to be included and educated about gender equality. This was welcomed since we believe that boys' participation is necessary for girls' empowerment. The Bright Futures Programme consisted of three modules: Give Yourself a Job, which helps equip students with skills for life after school, Gender Based Violence, which teaches girls to recognise and prevent it, and Protecting Futures, which addresses sexual and reproductive health issues. We made sure to tailor these modules to girls aged between 12 and 16, the age-group most vulnerable to dropping out of school. We also set up Bright Futures clubs, run by students, which allow girls and boys to discuss what they have learnt and ask questions in a safe and open environment.
Our 48 Bright Futures Clubs are now part of the UNICEF Girls’ and Boys’ Education Movement.
Since its implementation, we have reached more than 5,000 young people in 64 schools.
In two years we trained 102 teachers, principals and staff from the Department of Education.
112 members of the local community received training as programme facilitators.
In the second year of the programme, we held Parent-Child meetings in all schools.
In April 2016, community meetings were held in 10 communities in which the 13 schools are located. 246 community members were reached.
The baseline number of girls dropping out of school each year fell from 53 to 5 in 2016.
The baseline number of teenage pregnancies fell from 38 each year to 5 recorded from January 2016.
We saw a reduction of girls missing school days from a high of 45 per quarter down to 7 days per quarter by the project’s end.
Everywhere reported an improvement in behaviour among students who are more respectful of their peers and teachers.
Teachers and facilitators also reported how their learning from the programme has improved relationships with their own family, particularly their children.
One of the young people who benefited from the programme was then 15-year-old Rainy. She lived with both her parents in South Africa, but money was tight; her parents were unemployed and the family survived on the child support grant. Rainy’s biggest fear was falling pregnant.
Unsurprisingly her favourite part of the Bright Futures curriculum were the lessons about Teenage Pregnancy and importance of protected sex. She mentioned how the programme helped her deal with her periods by distributing sanitary towels to girls at school.
‘l learnt how to communicate with my mum and understand changes happening in my body.’
Although Rainy she found it hard to concentrate in school and was worried about money, she told us that she hopes to grow up and become a doctor.