JOHANNESBURG, The empowerment of girls is non-negotiable, says South African Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who stresses that the economic and personal empowerment which education provides will allow women and girls to make healthier choices for themselves and their families.

The Minister said this when she opened the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) Steering Committee and Sharing Conference in Gauteng on Tuesday. Representatives from all 15 member states of the regional bloc are attending the three-day meeting, which is an opportunity to share best practice on implementing the CSTL programme.

The programme is the brainchild of the SADC Secretariat to provide care and support for pupils across the sub-region so that they can reach their full academic potential.

Motshekga said within the sub-region, women and girls bear the brunt of the HIV pandemic, with their infection rates being between 1.8 and 1.5 times higher than those of males of similar ages. The region is also characterised by the phenomenon of child marriages and the scourge of teenage pregnancy.

Noting that safety remains a major problem in society, which filters through to schools, she added: Women are not safe in our societies, children are not safe. We have high levels of rape, domestic violence, gender-based violence, and other forms of abuse. This is why schools have to work together with society to deal with what they bring to us.

Children bring weapons from communities, and gangsters come from communities, and all that [gets] imported to schools. We cannot say that schools are becoming more violent, they are a reflection of society.”

The Minister said her department needed to work harder on improving the relationship it has with parents, communities and law enforcement agencies because it cannot protect learners on its own. More has to be done to empower girls so that they become aware of elements of abuse from an early age and are able to speak out.

The SADC’s acting Director for Gender, Social and Human Development, Lomthandazo Mavimbela, said both boys and girls need to be empowered for a better future to be realised. We really need to make sure that at both societal and cultural levels, we provide empowerment to both genders so that we can realise improvement, she added.