Mhani Gingi and the 1.6 Million Club South Africa host a successful Women’s Health Seminar in August 2015

Hettie Venter, Alexandra Charles, Karin Hernmarck-Ahliny and Professor Gail Hughes at the Women’s Health Seminar
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More than 370 women from diverse communities and organisations in Cape Town – including Bellville, Bonteheuwel, Delft, Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Manenberg, Mitchell's Plain, Nyanga, Woodstock, various women's clubs and the Western Cape Departments of Social Development and Health – discussed wellness issues affecting women, shared their concerns and heard expert advice at the Women’s Health Seminar hosted on August 22 2015 by the Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network and the 1.6 Million Club South Africa.

The seminar was the culmination of a special focus on Women’s Mental Health to mark Women’s Month in August 2015.  The opening remarks were made by Karin Hernmarck-Ahliny, Deputy Head of the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria, who mentioned the long association between Sweden and South Africa and her country’s concern for women’s and human rights. 

Hernmarck-Ahliny referred to the many challenges in the world today.  Women often became the victims of events taking place, without being given the space to do something about them, she said.  Hernmarck-Ahliny also referred to the amount of suffering caused to women because health issues affecting them could not be spoken about openly. 

Master of Ceremonies at the seminar, Councillor Mark Kleinschmidt, Anglican lay minister at St Philip's Anglican Church in Kenwyn, recalled the historic Women’s March for rights in South Africa in 1956.  He also mentioned the importance of encouraging respect for women in the younger generation of today.

Advancing mental health awareness

Professor Gail Hughes, Director of South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute at the University of the Western Cape, provided an overview and contextualisation of mental health in South Africa and of key conditions affecting women.  Professor Hughes indicated how mental health requires normalisation, given the stigma and negative connotations often surrounding the condition and the terminology.  The initial and important components towards advancing mental health awareness were education and availability of known resources for assistance.  In that, the women attending the seminar were taking the first step towards better understanding of mental health issues for women and towards action, she said.

Participants at the Women’s Health Seminar on August 22 heard expert advice on mental health topics, such as how dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect women.  This was the subject of Dr Dorota Religa, Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society in the Division of Neurogeriatrics at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. 

Promoting a healthy lifestyle

Dr Tracey Naledi, Chief Director: Health Programmes at Western Cape Department of Health, introduced the Western Cape Department of Health’s Wow! initiative to promote a healthy lifestyle in the Western Cape.  She made an announcement that the department offers free health screenings for  women throughout the year, but to celebrate the beauty and health of women in August and September 2015, women can go to Community Health Centres in Delft, Elsies River, Kraaifontein, Gugulethu, Hanover Park, Mitchell’s Plain, Macassar, Khayelitsha B, Ubuntu, Michael Mapongwana, Retreat and Vanguard, and access contraceptive choices, pregnancy screening and care, ante-natal care, free pap smears, breast checks and screening for chronic diseases. 

Moreover, women could enter a competition to win a ticket to attend a Women’s Workshop where they would receive a makeover and a goodie bag, and hear motivational speakers to empower themselves even further, Dr Naledi said.  The competition was in partnership with Bona magazine.  Dr Naledi said after the Women’s Health Seminar on August 22:  "I really had a fantastic time that empowered me as an individual. Thanks for creating such a wonderful forum." 

Dr Leila Sadien, Cape Town medical practitioner specialising in Integrative Medicine, told the seminar that Integrative Medicine teaches that people are “mind, body, and spirit”.  Dr Sadien and Desiree English, a certified Tension and Trauma Release Exercise provider, gave practical advice on how to manage stress.  Another programme topic was the possibility of introducing a tailor-made course to give tools to women to deal with the issue of mental problems. 

This subject was handled by Professor Solvig Ekblad, licensed psychologist at Academic Primary Health Care Centre, Head of the Cultural Medicine Unit in the Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics (LIME) and Professor in Multicultural Health and Care Research at Karolinska Institutet.  In their feedback, participants expressed an interest in such a course being launched in South Africa, starting in the Cape Flats.

“We inform and we inspire”

Alexandra Charles, Founder and President of the 1.6 Million Club Sweden, provided an introduction to the concept of the 1.6 Million Club, which she founded in Sweden in 1998.  She described how she had started sister clubs in six other countries, with the seventh being established in South Africa in February 2015, to raise awareness and spread information concerning women’s health and lifestyle issues.  Charles stressed the need for women to take charge by gaining more knowledge on women’s health issues.  "We inform and we inspire with the main aim of promoting prevention of preventable diseases," she said.

A panel of speakers from various fields discussed the mental health challenges that need to be met to unlock the great potential that South African women hold.  Integrative Psychiatrist, Siobhan Dawson, served as panel facilitator and participants deliberated the topic from the perspectives of Gender-based Violence (GBV), Substance Abuse, Nutrition/Exercise, HIV/AIDS, Pregnancy and Motherhood (perinatal phase) and Economy/Education.  The discussion covered a wide range of health issues, which included the difficulty of bringing about change in the community; social grants; dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and implementation of the Child Care Act.

The panelists were Dr Sally Mullins, Departmental Senior, Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Mitchell's Plain Hospital; Ramona Francis, Human Resources Manager at Sanlam Investments; Charl Davids, Psychologist; Chantelle Pepper, Substance Abuse Programme, Department of Social Development; Emma Baty, Dietitian; Timothy Okunade, HIV/AIDS Co-ordinator, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), Worcester; Denise Robinson, MP, Constituency Head, Interim Federal Leader DAWN, Shadow Minister, Women in the Presidency.

Women participants from a range of communities around Cape Town also shared their own stories, experiences and concerns at the seminar.  This conversation included stories of how the elderly are abused and experiences of the difficulty of raising teenagers today; concerns were raised about the challenges surrounding drug abuse in communities and ideas were put forward on how to make available resources and services so that women can access help more easily.

In their feedback after the seminar, participants said they appreciated learning “a lot of health tips” at the Women’s Health Seminar, hearing about stress relief and receiving “valuable information towards mental health”.  There were requests for a longer event next time, possibly over a full weekend, to provide further information on mental health.  It was also suggested that the seminar be held more than once a year. 

Other requests from the women were for more workshops and projects surrounding mental health to be implemented in the communities and that “not just women’s mental issues” but also mental issues affecting youth and teenagers be covered, including how to deal with them.

Women also believed there should be free treatments offered to women from underprivileged areas such as Manenberg, Nyanga, Philippi and Atlantis, where people could not afford private treatment and counselling.  Workshops were requested on depression and on managing abuse of drugs and alcohol.  Other feedback from participants included a suggestion to “have doctors on site to have the ladies attended to after the workshop” and “to see youth also active in this programme”.

“Women are powerful and strong”

“Women are powerful and strong and we can overcome any obstacle life throws at us,” said one participant.  “I have learned so much in a short period of time,” was how another woman felt.  “I would like (the speakers) to come to the community to educate the patients (on) how to manage their own family,” was a further comment.

Youth and the elderly were common areas of concern.  Discipline at school was another issue raised, as was the development and empowering of the parents in the community.  Stress relief and weight loss were other topics raised.

“The topic of mental well-being is a vast one.  Things that add to it include stress caused by various elements in the environment such as gender-based violence,” said Lillian Masebenza, Founding Director of Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network.  “The seminar also focused on providing women with tools to enable them to be able to deal with health-related issues, such as how to manage the stigma of suffering from mental illness.

Not just ‘talk’ and passion

“More than anything, the seminar was about spreading awareness – through information disseminated by experts both from Sweden and South Africa.  However, it was not just about ‘talk’ and passion – passion without action is not enough,” Masebenza said.  What was important was how the representatives from the various communities were looking to take the messages back to their communities and to act on them, she said.

Ramona Francis, Human Resources Manager at Sanlam Investments and 1.6 Million Club South Africa board member, had this to say after the seminar:  “Thank you to all the women who stepped in with their various resources, skills and knowledge to support the women of Cape Town.  There is much to be done and every effort goes a long way to healing and empowering those mothers, daughters and sisters who need it most.  It would make a huge impact if we as women can start by mentoring the young girls in our communities.”

Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network is a non-profit organisation that provides innovative solutions to the eradication of poverty.  Mhani Gingi has strengthened its focus on health through collaboration with the 1.6 Million Club Sweden, resulting in the formation of the 1.6 Million Club South Africa.  The 1.6 Million Club South Africa is the sister organisation of the international women’s health promotion organisation, the 1.6 Million Club, which raises awareness and spreads information concerning women’s health and lifestyle issues as well as lobbying for equal, gender-based, medical research. 

The 1.6 Million Club South Africa was launched in Cape Town on February 17 2015 and has the distinction of being the first 1.6 Million Club on the African continent.

For further information about Mhani Gingi:

Please contact Lillian Masebenza, Founding Director of Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network:  Telephone:  021 531 8577 or 082 465 4687.

Website address:  http://www.mhanigingi.co.za

More about the 1.6 Million Club South Africa:

The ambition of the 1.6 Million Club South Africa is to become a platform for Knowledge Sharing and Awareness Raising, focusing on girls and women’s health and well-being. The club is becoming a vehicle whereby knowledge from experts and academic institutions is transferred to those who are most in need of it.  The 1.6 Million Club South Africa organises and facilitates this interaction.

Website address:  http://www.millionslubsa.wordpress.com

More about the 1.6 Million Club Sweden:

The 1.6 Million Club was founded in Sweden in 1998 by Alexandra Charles, who has been President since.  She was inspired by the cardiologist, Professor Karin Schenck-Gustafsson, and Professor of gynaecology, Professor Britt-Marie Landgren, who could both tell how male-dominated the field of research was and how women were discriminated against within the health care sector.  With the purpose of improving and creating equal research and health care, and in order to spread objective information, the 1.6 Million Club was established.  The name came about because, at the time, there were 1.6 million women over 45 years of age in Sweden.  Ten years later, the 2.6 Million Club was established for younger women, from 25 years and upwards.

Website address:  http://www.1.6miljonerklubben.com

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