Zazi

Know Your Strength
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STEVE MMAPASEKA LETSIKE – GENDER ACTVIST

And the power of the collective is a concept that has followed her into adult life. Cases of injustice and gender based violence (GBV) and issues of injustice aggrieve Steve. When Busisiwe's 2005 gang rape case in Thembisa dragged on for years Steve was part of a group of women arrested for participating in the One to Nine campaign in 2008, demanding an end to the unnecessary delays and judicial bungling.

"I will forever remember that arrest. It was my Aha! moment and realization that speaking up and adding my voice to a cause can make a difference," says Steve who is a supporter of the recently launched ZAZI campaign. Steve is one of our country's top advocacy and human rights activists and takes every opportunity she can to make a difference and speak for the voiceless.

"As women of South Africa we should stand up for all women in their diversity whether old or young, black or white, rich or poor, lesbian or straight, HIV positive, foreigners or wherever they may be. Let's all work together for a better country where everyone feels safe in their own homes, schools and communities,'' she says. "Until that day comes, I will wake up every morning ready to make a difference for the marginalized in our communities."

Through her work, her passion for equality is evident. As government relations manager at Anova Health Institutes, she advocates for key populations' access to competent public health services focusing on HIV, STI and TB programmes. She is also deputy chairperson of South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), chairperson of the Civil Society Forum and chairperson of the executive committee of the National Council Against Gender Based Violence.

"There is no justification in a democracy for discrimination based on health status, race, nationality or ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability, social status or age amongst others," says Steve.

As a result of the many struggles she faced as a young child, Steve matured quickly and learnt not to cower in the face of the financial challenges and lack of opportunities for children in the townships but to work hard at school as her ticket to a better life.

"I was lucky that I found my voice at an early age, by the time I was 13 I was already involved with the ANC Youth League local branch in my hometown, having become aware of the gross inequalities of the apartheid regime and involved with OUT LGBT Well-Being . At school, I had also had my run in with the authorities, successfully challenging the school dress code which did not allow girls to wear trousers. Even at that young age I understood the importance of freedom of self-expression and identity and my mind was constantly analyzing certain society norms."

Steve is a firm believer that the fight for equality starts with oneself and that everyone has a role to play in being a leader in their families and communities, most importantly is to action responsibility that we have towards our communities.

"Getting empowered involves understanding your rights as well respecting the rights of others. The spirit of Ubuntu should remain the backbone of this nation,'' she concludes.