Equipping young people to know, claim and defend their rights (South Africa)

Young people participate in human rights’ month activities at Ntethelelo Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa. © Eunice Namugwe/OHCHR

The OHCHR Regional Office for Southern Africa completed its Human Rights Month activities in South Africa, on 23 March, with a visit to the Ntethelelo Foundation. The Office began its partnership with the Foundation in 2019, to support community-based engagement on human rights and build the awareness of young people about the transformative potential of human rights.

At the Foundation’s centre, located in Setswetla informal settlement in Alexandra, founder, executive director and renowned theatre practitioner, Thokozani Ndaba, uses drama, interactive techniques and art methodologies to encourage dialogue among adolescents and inspire social change, including by challenging gender inequality and poverty, combating violence against women and girls and empowering other youth. The Foundation’s curriculum is based on SRHR, however, mathematics, English and counselling are also available. The Foundation works closely with the wider community and encourages parents to play an active role in their children’s lives and well-being.

Originally only open to girls, the programme began to welcome boys in February 2021, who have taken away important lessons. “We learned how to respect women. We learned about dismantling toxic masculinity,” says 14-year-old Tshepang.

During an event to mark Human Rights Day (10 December), discussions focused on reducing inequalities and the principle of Leaving No One Behind, what human rights means to each participant and how the programmes at Ntethelelo have impacted their lives.

Several young people pointed out that while everyone has human rights, these rights are often violated in their community. They noted that many people are denied access to education, experience rampant gender-based violence and live in informal structures that are destroyed during hazardous weather.

After the discussions, short plays were performed that began with a portrayal of human rights violations against youth, followed by alternative scenarios wherein the rights of young people were respected and protected. In one of the plays, young people looking for sexual and reproductive health services were denied condoms by health care workers due to their age. “The plays are about how we are treated because of where we come from. It makes me feel sad that teenage pregnancy is high because of the treatment they give us and teenagers become mothers,” said 16-year-old Susan.

Abigail Noko, OHCHR Regional Representative, encouraged the young people to continue standing up for their rights, including in the midst of the challenges they face, emphasizing that the right to education is their ticket to improving their lives. She encouraged them to focus on their studies so that they can enjoy a brighter future. “We are all born free and equal. No matter where we come from, what we look like, whether we are rich or poor. Know your human rights in order to claim them and defend them.”

The events in Setswetla served as a reminder of the importance of engaging local communities in the human rights movement and recognizing their role in promoting fundamental freedoms and rights.

Several young people who participated at the human rights’ month activities at the Ntethelelo Foundation, in Johannesburg, South Africa, pose for a group photo.
Young people participate in human rights’ month activities at Ntethelelo Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa. © Eunice Namugwe/OHCHR
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