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Reflecting on Women’s Month in SA

Reflecting on Women’s Month in SA

Celebrating the Women Leaders of CHAPS


Public health care relies on strong and transformative leadership to remain resilient and responsive to the needs of our population. In the last 10 years, we have moved towards increased integration of women occupying leadership roles in the public health sector. The Centre for HIV/AIDS Prevention Studies (CHAPS) is one such example. CHAPS was founded ten years ago by two men with a vision. The board of directors was almost entirely male, and since June 2020, the board and executive committee has over 70% female leaders. This year has been a triumph in revitalizing an organisation that was in troubled waters, and the women at the steering wheel have navigated CHAPS onto a steadier and more successful route. We celebrate the women at the head of our organisation, as we round off Women’s Month in South Africa.


Wonder Women

Our first ‘Wonder Woman’ is board chairperson, Dr Dorothy Sekhukhune. Dorothy hails from a long career in public and mental health awareness. The first black woman director on the board of the Lifecare group of hospitals immediately post-1994 democratic elections, Dorothy has focused on helping people and giving back to society throughout her career. She founded Masego Home Based Care, an NGO which provides in home care for psycho-geriatric persons. She refers to her role models as the nurses and doctors who she worked with along the way, and in particular her mentor in nursing and psychiatry who she fondly remembers having told her ‘My kind wees versigtig, hierdie manne sal jou opvreet’ (My child be careful, these men will eat you up). In her spare time, Dorothy enjoys travelling and spending time with her children. Dorothy’s advice to women entering the world of public health, and any leadership role, is to work smart and deliver quality work at all times. Use your time properly, stick to your schedule and make discipline your second nature. Always keep yourself four steps ahead, and never play into the intimidation game. Lastly, always hold the women who work with you in high esteem, because it is their support and trust that will never fail you.



They say dynamite comes in small packages, and this is no less true for CHAPS CEO Jacqueline Pienaar. Jacqui has been with CHAPS since the beginning of 2019. She has over 15 years’ experience in biomedical research and development, along with organisation and implementation of clinical trials, and implementation of public health intervention and programmes. Jacqui has a keen interest in adventure sports such as skydiving and submitting reports to PEPFAR. Anyone who spends more than five minutes in a room with Jacqui will notice that she is constantly on top of at least three things at the same time. Jacqui has her finger on the pulse of the business and is always looking for new ways to improve the organisation’s visibility and reach. When considering the role of women in the field of public health Jacqui believes that equality must be practiced across all fields, not only in the workplace. Women have a voice, and a valid perspective that is shaping our country and future generations. We are currently ambassadors of a healthy and economically viable society free of oppression and violence, for our future women in this country. Her advice? Women: have confidence. Learn as much as you can, from everyone. Each person has something to teach another. Take the opportunities and be brave. Jacqui is proud to be part of an organisation that holds women in high regard. CHAPS has an active Economic Empowerment plan where we promote further learning and in-service mentorship of all our staff, with a special focus on women.


Fierce advocate

Our CFO, Joshila Hari, is a force to be reckoned with. Joshila has worked in public health for over 9 years. A fierce advocate of female empowerment, she believes women should be given equal opportunity in all sectors of the workplace. We have evolved over the last few years to be in a position where women are leading and becoming empowered. Women are proactive and we embrace our occupations. Our delivery and turnaround times are faster with women at the fore. When not performing mathematical miracles Joshila can be found enjoying a quiet night in with a book or reading with her daughter. Joshila admires strong women, Michele Obama and Oprah Winfrey in particular. Both women have made a huge impact with their words and influence. Her two sayings are: ‘I may stumble, but I always get back up. Whatever happened yesterday no longer matters. Today is another day to start over and move on. Why? Because strong women never quit’ and, ‘Don’t abandon your dreams. You still have time, no matter what your mind or anyone else tells you.’


Maintain balance

Head of Human Resources, Amanda Kweyama, has been with CHAPS for just over 8 months and has worked in public health for over 5 years. She is the mother of twins and hopes to one day establish her own NGO aimed at helping people from underdeveloped areas and communities with HR Guidance and Support on various employment issues. When offering advice to any women in the public health sector, Amanda feels that it is a very challenging environment, so it is important to manage and maintain balance between emotion and professionalism. Furthermore, she feels that although we have made great progress in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic, she feels there is work to be done when addressing and dealing with HIV-related stigma. In South Africa, we need to accept HIV/AIDS as a disease without associating it with behaviour. Amanda feels positive about the direction we are headed as an organisation. Amanda is proud to work for CHAPS and is eager to see the organisation grow and succeed for many years to come.


Speak out

A head of operations needs broad shoulders, as they are in charge of daily business activities, managing resources, developing, and implementing operational plans. Our own Head of Operations, Maria Sibanyoni is energetic and tenacious and takes these challenges in her stride. Not surprising for a seasoned ultramarathon runner with 10 Comrades marathons under her belt. Maria has been involved in public health and specifically HIV/AIDS operations for over 20 years. She feels that as women we need to speak out and vocally advocate to fight Gender Based Violence in our personal capacity and in business. Women must take their place in leadership, and ensure that women have access to health services. Maria feels that HIV/AIDS has taken a backseat to COVID-19, and the lockdown in South Africa the epidemic has affected access to HIV treatment, resulting in increased defaulting. Maria feels, however, that we are moving in a positive direction in spreading messaging around efficacy of VMMC and PrEP, but that we need to strengthen the strategies for uptake of HIV prevention. Maria asserts that CHAPS is a leading community organisation. Getting the community involved is an effective public health strategy. Her wish for CHAPS is to see the organisation grow and reach out to more communities. By increasing capacity development of health care providers, we can improve efficiency and deliver quality health care.


Sharing skills

One of CHAPS’ most important functions is to provide training and education to medical personnel. Our head of training, Dr Pelonomi Mampie, is the brains behind our training programmes. Dr Mampie is a modest and unassuming professional and prefers not to bring attention to herself. Behind her humble exterior lies a busy brain leading critical training and skill sharing at CHAPS. Dr Mampie has worked in public health for over 15 years, including providing VMMC, working in private practice and government health care departments. Dr Mampie feels that women need to stand their ground. Never be intimidated by your colleagues, whether male or female, no matter their position in the organogram. Never allow yourself to be taken advantage of. She notes that a major challenge affecting the progress and management of HIV/AIDS that people are becoming complacent. Little to no new information is being shared, and we must remind the younger generations of the reality, that we are nowhere near the end of the line. We cannot assume that everyone is aware of the danger of this disease. CHAPS has been involved in providing education and training to medical personnel. Dr Mampie wishes that we could do more in our own capacity. Her wish for the organisation is to take the spotlight in the field of VMMC and HST, to show our influence in HIV/AIDS education.


If you wish to succeed as a woman in any environment, you bring along with you all of those who helped you and made you the person you are today. Graça Machel once said;

"Our lives will only have a meaning if each one of us can confidently say that I was able to bring five, ten, fifteen and twenty women along with me. What I am saying is, do not climb alone"

At CHAPS our women are our strength and we climb together today and forever going forward.