Kylah Forbes-Biggs
Yolanda Maartens
Publication Date
December 1, 2012

African Centre for Disaster Studies, North-West University, South Africa

"The future of adolescent girls living in informal settlements in South Africa is undermined by physical and sexual violence, poverty, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, teenage pregnancy, social pressures, and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and tuberculosis. Complicated by the intrusion of ascribed cultural and social norms, their lives are often characterized by limited education, limited social power, belittlement, demoralization and marginalization. This uninviting scenario is further compounded by the incidence of hazards such as flooding and fire that threaten to overwhelm their environments and already fragile existence."

This field report describes the Girls In Risk Reduction Leadership (GIRRL) Program capacity-building initiative for adolescent girls in South Africa and highlights lessons learned and obstacles faced when working with adolescent girls in disaster risk reduction. This report asserts that adolescent girls have a viable role to play in supporting community-based disaster-reduction initiatives.

The GIRRL programme serves as a means to affirm rights and build resilience in South African adolescents through education and participation. "The program is aimed at helping the participants understand the links between health, welfare and individual vulnerability. The capacity-building program was designed specifically to address some of the challenges to individual welfare, such as disease and unplanned pregnancy, which threaten these adolescent girls and erode their ability to withstand adversity....Ultimately the program aimed to capacitate 20 adolescent girls (between the ages of 14-21) per site with the skills and knowledge necessary to help change behavior, make better choices and create situations wherein they are less vulnerable....The program was based on the Participatory Action Research (PAR) Model."

Training session include topics such as: first aid, fire safety, community-based disaster risk reduction, environmental education, and communication. Session were adapted to communities; for example, in a community where nearly half the participating girls were heads of households due to HIV/AIDS deaths of parents or parent migration, budgeting, time management, social responsibilities, and community support were added to the curriculum along with mental health support.

The events held in each community were focused on risks identified by participants and consisted of various elements such as a drama on alcohol and drug abuse, poems about rape, fire safety scenes, and songs about girls in the community. Programme achievements include: the adoption of leadership positions by the girls in their communities, which has afforded them respect and role model status; the establishment of positive relationships between local disaster coordinating entities, communities, and youth; increases in participants’ capacities through the provision of information and training in critical areas; and positive contributions (such as improving the hazards awareness of women and girls) toward the building of resilience in their vulnerable communities. Peer education sessions, research, radio broadcasts, and local programme replication have resulted from the training.

[Editor's note: For a full PDF format document of this article, please consult the Children, Youth and Environments Journal website.]

Image credit: Bantwana

Children, Youth and Environments website, Vol. 22, No.2 (2012), ISSN 1546-2250, accessed on December 18 2012. Image credit: Bantwana