Strong Girls to Inspire: Olwethu Njoloza-Leshabane (Humanitarian)

Strong Girls to Inspire: Olwethu Njoloza-Leshabane (Humanitarian)

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*ONE Campaign in partnership with the SABC are looking for the first ever South African Strong Girl. In this series, ONE will profile amazing South African women who are working hard to make a difference in different sectors of society. As a build-up to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, ONE in partnership with the SABC have joined forces to kick off a campaign inspired by the song, Strong Girl, with the aim to ensure South African leaders are more aware of the importance of the critical issues that were raised in the June African Union Declaration, that affect the progress of South African women and girls. The Strong Girl Campaign aims to engage South Africans on the importance of the South African government putting women and girls at the center of its fight against poverty. As part of this initiative, ONE and SABC are looking for a Strong Girl who will represent the country at this huge platform in New York.*

The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity. – Leo Tolstoy

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Olwethu Njoloza-Leshabane

Olwethu Njoloza-Leshabane is a strong girl who believes a candle loses nothing by lighting another. In 2014, Olwethu and her husband were introduced to a household in Klipfontein, a low income suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa. There was a lot of need. The family headed by an elderly woman, comprised of eight children (6 boys under the ages of 10 and 2 girls over the age of 13).

During one of her visits, she learnt that one of the girls had been caught stealing a neighbour’s underwear from the washing line. After her punishment, it was discovered that she had began her periods and menstruated on the only underwear she owned so needed another one to change.

This incident inspired Olwethu to form the Red Wings Project in November 2014. She teaches school-going girls about their reproductive system as well as distributes sanitary pads to those girls in the most deprived circumstances. Through her project Olwethu has tried to dispel the taboos that exist in South Africa around women’s menstruation so that they are able to talk about any challenges they face during menstruation.

The problem that Olwethu is trying to address is real. A 2013, research showed that young girls missed an average of 800 hours of school every year because they do not have access to sanitary pads. The effect of this on their performance in school cannot be undervalued. From a health angle, it has been found that often girls and women use old clots, toilet paper, and in some cases leaves during this very sensitive period of their lives every month. The implications of the use of these materials on their reproductive health is a serious cause of concern.

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Olwethu makes a presentation at a school

Red Wings Project wants to ensure that every woman regardless of their social status has access to sanitary pads and has information too on how the use of some alternatives can affect her health and wellbeing. The project wants to ensure the girl child never misses a day of school because they are menstruating and do not have sanitary pads.

As the world waits for the ushering in of the new development goals, that aim to alleviate poverty in all its forms, ONE is looking for more women like Olwethu, who are in their own way trying to end extreme poverty in its various forms.

For Olwethu, the success of the new goals will be measured by ensuring that girls are kept in school through removing any obstacles that hinder their access and ability to get an education. Olwethu says, “More girls in school means a higher chance of young confident girls able to take up their places in future leadership of our country and more women in leadership translates into more people moving out of poverty in our country,”

Do you know other strong girls in your community who have gone an extra mile to address real challenges which impact people? Please nominate them to be South Africa’s first Strong Girl. More information can be found by following this link

Competition closes on Friday 4 September, 2015

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