Miss Thobeka Khubisa, DDP Associated Facilitator and Founder of Thobeka Khubisa Foundation.
Thobeka is a young black woman, a lover of nature and people. An introvert with an extroverted passion. I consider myself a social justice activist and young academic whose research interests are in gender and sexuality. I am currently a PhD Candidate at UKZN as well as a YALI Alumni. I believe in the importance of bridging the gap between academia and practical lived experiences on the ground and this is what inspired the vision for my organisation. My organisation, the Thobeka Khubisa Foundation, is a nonprofit organisation that focuses on the empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) through creating safe spaces for AGYW from marginalised communities to discuss issues related to gender and sexuality and this includes HIV, Teenage Pregnancy and Transactional sex relationships as these are realities that AGYW are exposed to. The organisation started operating unofficially in 2019, although I personally have been in the civil society space for just over ten years, starting out as an ACTIVATE Change Driver and volunteering and being employed by civil society organisations. The organisation has grown steadily over the few years and couple of months and because our beneficiaries are primarily teenage girls in high schools of Durban communities, we have found favour in the hearts and minds of not only our beneficiaries but also the school management as well as parents; who ernstly follow our social media pages and comment on the value and impact of our work in their children’s lives.
We create safe spaces for AGYW, mostly high school girls to dialogue on these issues in a non-judgmental manner. The aim is for us to learn together and work towards decreasing the statistics of early and/or teenage pregnancy as well as reducing the numbers of AGYW who are vulnerable to engaging in transactional sex relationships with older men. There are many reasons for AGYW to engage in transactional sex relationships and in many instances, they engage in these relationships in order to be able to afford the essential and basic toiletries and cosmetics. It is for this reason that we often find it best that alongside our “intervention” of hosting dialogues that we are also able to give girls dignity/hygiene packs. We are cognizant of the reality that at the root of what manifests as social ills are structural inequalities and these largely affect marginalised communities, and in this case adolescent girls and young women are disproportionately affected. We work with high schools and up to date we have worked with schools in KwaMashu and Umlazi. As the years progress and as we grow as an organisation, we hope that our reach will expand to other parts of Durban and KwaZulu Natal. At the core of our work is on achieving Sustainable Development Goal number 5 – that of Gender Equality through consciousness raising and awareness about the sexual and reproductive health rights of adolescent girls and young women, particularly in relation to their vulnerability to HIV, transactional sex relationships and subsequently statutory rape (although called ‘teenage pregnancy” in South Africa).
Alongside our main priority of sexual and reproductive health, we also find value in focusing on leadership amongst adolescent girls particularly because adolescence is a time in their lives where many become shy, less expressive and less confident. Our most recent program was a dialogue titled Lead(H)ership: Amplifying girls’ voices which sought to start the conversation of girls’ leadership from a high school level, engaging them on concepts around leadership, democracy, civic education and human rights within their school and community contexts. It is this program that connects our work with the work of DDP as it falls under DDP’s most recent and developing work on Women and Leadership. Infact, this program was a first of its kind mainly because the work od DDP has largely focused on out-of-school youth (university students) and older. However, in crucial work on women and leadership it is important to begin the conversation at adolescence even if they have not as yet reached the age of having voting rights. This enables them to reach university level with a foundation of the basics of leadership and its connection to gender equality and amplifying girls and women’s voices.
I cannot quite recall how I became an Associate Facilitator of DDP but I used to regularly attending DDP workshops/conferences and was briefly employed by DDP as an Admin Assistant for 4 months. I liked the work of DDP and so when I started my organisation, through regular conversations with Dr Paul, I established a relationship with DDP. I was able to find the gap and the place where the work of my organisation converges and aligns with the work of DDP. Through DDP’s regular interactions with young people and the general public on the ground, it is explicit how intentional DDP is about privileging the voices and experiences of the marginalised either through the community dialogues or the conferences and workshops. This is a critical element for progressive community work and I am also intentional about placing girls and women’s voices and experiences at the centre of our work. With the work that the Thobeka Khubisa Foundation and DDP have recently done, on amplifying girls’ voices, I envision this partnership growing and for the work to stretch to all adolescent girls in the various communities in and around Durban, and KwaZulu Natal in its entirety. This work has a huge potential to make a great impact and for adolescent girls to understand that they too are capable of leading and that their voices matter.
As a founder of the Thobeka Khubisa Foundation, Thobeka is a finalist for the 10th Annual Fabulous Woman Awards in the category ‘Sta Sof Fro Fabulous Woman Empowerment Award’. The Fabulous Woman Awards honor and celebrates excellent African women and girls making a difference in communities across South Africa.