Rock Girl creating a safe space for young women in need

Rock Girl is transforming the lives of young women across the Cape Flats and across South Africa by creating safe spaces where they can become resilient, curious and active citizens. Since 2010, over 400 girls between the ages of 11 and 18 have participated in Rock Girl after school, weekend, and holiday programmes. In 2015, Rock Girl launched the first-ever girl-led Road Trips, taking girls from some of the most dangerous communities in Cape Town across South Africa to meet other girls and find solutions to the challenges they face at school, at home, and on the streets.

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Each week, Rock Girl continues to run two afterschool programmes for girls in grades 5-7 in Manenberg, the Red River Rock Girl group and the Art in the Forest counselling group, but now also coordinates two groups of high school girls each week. We are incredibly proud that these Rock Girls successfully advocated for the construction of a brand new school at Red River, which was officially opened in early 2016. The new school has created a vibrant safe space for over 800 learners, and the girls’ first ever Safe Space bench has pride of place at the school. There are over 55 Safe Space benches around South Africa now, including one at Bredasdorp Magistrate Court that was installed in memory of Anene Booysens and two other young women who were raped and murdered in the area in the last two years. We are currently creating a bench in partnership with the staff at the Bay Hotel that will be unveiled later this year.

The BRAVE girl group is for girls from ten different high schools and meets at the American Corner at the Cape Town Central Library. The girls discuss local and global issues facing teenagers, meet with girls from other communities, write their own blog, and are trained as journalists to documents these stories and share them more broadly through social media and workshops. These girls can all apply to attend a Rock Girl Road Trip.

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In May, this group initiated the BRAVE debate on gender equality, sexual violence and its impact on teenagers today, launching the first of three meetings between Rock Girl and the Global Issues Network groups at Bishops, Herschel, Reddam, and Springfield schools. These conversations are critical and bring boys and girls together to discuss solutions to the violence that they face in their daily lives, breaking down myths and barriers between genders and communities.

The SST Khayelitsha girl group is based in a community that faces serious challenges with sanitation, sexual violence, and unemployment. These girls live near where Sinoxolo Mafevuka was raped and murdered earlier this year and are working with the Open Design Festival, along with the BRAVE girl group, to design alternative sanitation solutions in their area. These girls also receive radio reporting and photography training in preparation for potential participation in Rock Girl Road Trips. In April, Rock Girl BRAVE and SST had a day long workshop to document the problems girls face in SST and will share these with the designers working with them on solutions.

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In 2015, Rock Girl travelled over 2000km, to the Eastern and Northern Capes, on two innovative Road Trips.  On each trip, sixteen girls were selected to interview other girls (over 100 on each trip), share their stories, and document their common challenges. The trips were coordinated in partnership with Cape Town Tourism, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, and with lodges like Tswalu in the Kalahari. The theme of the first trip was art and culture, and we visited local artisans, craftspeople, and designers along the way, as well as toured the Port Elizabeth public art.  The theme of the second trip was science and we visited the telescope at Sutherland, met with researchers at Tswalu and visited health clinics. On both trips, girls wrote public service announcements and broadcast them over community radio stations, reaching thousands of girls and boys, as well as wrote daily articles for the Mail and Guardian and the Cape Times, learning first-hand the challenges of reporting on the road.

The girls who participated in these trips returned with a new lens on their lives and have met with the Minister of Justice, Michael Mashatu, the head of the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority, Thoko Majokweni, and the head of the NPA, as well as the Regional Head of Justice Hishaam Mohammed, and local leaders and educators to share what they learned and advocate for changes. Additionally, they have been asked to speak at the ATTA conference in December, interviewing Colin Bell, Brad Poole of Peace Parks Foundation, and other travel experts about what they are doing to change the face of tourism in South Africa.  Some of the girls have been placed in internships in the travel industry upon their return and one of the girls regularly receives the highest marks in her school in Tourism.

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As part of their journalism training, the girls also learn writing and social media skills and run their own blog and are currently setting up their own youth newsletter to reach many more girls, with support from design students from CPUT and students from UCT. In October, the next group of girls will travel to Mpumalanga to work with Singita and meet girls living on the edge of Kruger National Park to discuss their challenges, and another group of girls from the Cape will travel to Limpopo to meet girls from Botswana and Ziimbabwe and create a documentary of their lives.

Rock Girl is also designing BRAVE products that the girls will help sell online and at selected retail shops around South Africa. These will include BRAVE adventure tote bags, a BRAVE perfume created by the girls in partnership with Frazer Parfum, and tshirts. In July, Southern Guild Gallery will host a dinner and BRAVE awards programme and exhibit to showcase the writing and photographs of the girls and launch these products that will help sustain our programme and provide employment opportunities for our girls.

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In April 2016, in response to the tragic and devastating rapes and murders of two young women, Rock Girl organised the first ever BRAVE pan-community 35km run from Khayelitsha to the Rock Girl benches at Heritage Square to raise awareness about the need for a culture of non-violence in South Africa. The girls wrote newspaper articles and spoke on the radio, creating a special show for SAfm about the event. Rock Girl partnered with the Amy Biehl Foundation, Grassroot Soccer, and Sonke Gender Justice and SAPS provided support along the way. We plan to make this an annual event due to the success of the first run and widespread media coverage and community support.

In July 2017, Rock Girl will partner with Escape +Explore to launch the first BRAVE Adventure Academy to train girls to become adventure guides. Twenty girls will spend two weeks in Cape Town learning practical skills on the mountain and listening to mentors each evening round the campfire, then will travel to Singita to participate in a week long conservation programme. The girls will be certified as Adventure Guides and some will receive internships at selected lodges around South Africa.

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Twelve of the girls in our high school group have been with Rock Girl for six years, since grade 5, and they are now in grade 11. They are achieving academically but more importantly, they are planning to attend university and travel post-matric, dreams which seemed impossible when they were 10 and 11 years old. Rock Girl is girl-led – we strive to give the young women we work with agency to make their own decisions about their lives. Each day, most of them must decide whether it is safe to go to school, whether to join a gang, or become teen mothers.

Every one of the girls we work with has either witnessed murders first hand, and has personal experiences of rape and sexual violence. Travel on the Road Trips has been the most impactful activity we have undertaken so far – it has opened minds and left the girls speechless, but they have returned ready to share their stories and change their lives and the lives of others. They are on the frontlines in some of the most dangerous communities in South Africa, but they are brave, confident and ambitious – Rock Girl is preparing them to become leaders in their own communities and across the country.