Young millennials in action – Femme and its amazing work with young people
Anastasia Slamat reports on the work of young millennials in taking up issues of sexual and gender identity with young women
“Social justice means combatting all forms of structural violence,” Kelly-Eve Koopman (27) a young activist from Cape Town explains. Kelly-Eve, together with Kim Windvogel and Loren Loubsher cofounded Freedom of Education Motivates Empowerment (FEMME), an NGO in the Western Cape, in 2014. It aims to apply an intersectional and interactive approach to educating and empowering the youth on sexual education, gender, identity, reproductive rights and puberty.
The trio drew inspiration from serving as part of the project management team of the Phelpophepa Health Care Train, a hospital on wheels which travels throughout the year stationing itself in various rural communities. Kelly- Eve participated in the Teenage Health Programme, a pilot project of the Phelpophepa Train, which serviced local schools in areas where the train was stationed.
Kelly-Eve recalls feeling disgusted and overwhelmed when confronted with the evident spatial inequality between metropoles and rural areas and the deprivations of access that continue to be reproduced. Passionate about their experience of working with younger women in schools, Kelly Eve and her colleagues registered the Femme NGO and Femme projects. The focus is on redressing approaches to health and sexual education by way of engaging in judgement free dialogue.
Femme seeks to provide a two-pronged approach. Young women who are part of the programme are provided with basic hygiene resources such as deodorant and toothpaste, while participating in the various workshops and programmes offered. Workshops include teaching learners to use the menstrual cup, a sanitation device which last for 5 years. Economic exclusion and lack of access experienced by rural communities proves disadvantageous especially to young women, who are unable to purchase sanitary products. This results in them missing school and feeling ashamed about the fact that they are not able to afford sanitary towels. Kelly-Eve emphasises that the NGO focuses on using menstruation as a springboard to begin engaging with social and gender taboos attached to womanhood, sex and puberty.
Femme has serviced 17 schools mainly throughout the Western Cape. This includes schools in Calitzdorp, Robertson, De Doorns, Oudtshoorn, Khayelitsha, Worcester and Ashton. Given that the current educational system is in drastic need of reform, (especially with regard to the Life Orientation syllabus), Femme provides a safe and well facilitated space to talk about bodies, sex and all aspects related to sexual and gender identity .
“Puberty can be frightening and lonely. Learners are confused about what’s happening to their bodies and feel unable to talk to educators and guardians about their experience and questions. By only advocating abstinence and without creating a supportive, safe and honest spaces, learners remain both repressed and vulnerable to depression, sexually transmitted diseases, poor decision making, abuse and teenage pregnancy,” says Kelly-Eve. Ultimately, Femme aims to provide young female learners with access to accurate information which will assist them in making well informed choices on issues that impact on their lives. The rights of LGBTQI and Trans learners are also important issues for Femme.
Kelly-Eve cites her biggest influencers to be her single mother, whom she describes as “an academic and fearless freedom fighter.” She instilled the foundations of gender equality, black consciousness and the imperative of pursuing basic human dignity at a young age.
Like many NGO’s, the greatest challenge experienced by Femme has been the sourcing of funds, considering the scope of the programme, the travelling distances and the distribution of sanitation items. Additionally, the programme remains logistically challenging, as follow-ups are conducted and are required to be respectful of school schedules (workshops occur during school hours).
If in the event that you or your organisation wishes to support or participate in any of the Femme Projects, banking and contact details can be found on the NGO’s landing page: www.femmeprojects.org.za. For current updates on Femme projects, please follow the Facebook page: Femme-Freedom of Education Motivates Empowerment.