About Us

Problem Statement

South Africa is the most HIV-affected country in the world, infamously known for having one of the highest rates of reported sexual offences in the world as well as one of the highest rates of gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide.

Devastatingly, women carry the brunt of all of these societal ills, with women being disproportionately affected by HIV compared to men (26% of women versus 15% of men), an estimated 40% of women in South Africa having been raped at some point during their lifetime, and 51% of South African women reporting having experienced domestic violence.

Poverty, HIV and GBV are interconnected social ills that operate in a vicious cycle in a society that continuously and systematically disempowers women. Gender norms long held in traditional communities means that these women lack social, legal and economic agency and autonomy – increasing their risk exposure to HIV.

Therefore, in order to truly uplift and empower the women of South Africa to improve their lives, all these factors must be recognised and their relationships well understood.


We have a vision of a South Africa where economically empowered women live free from gender-based violence and HIV.


Our mission is to build robust communities through the empowerment of women in the poorest areas of South Africa by supporting sustainable livelihoods, challenging gender norms to reduce the risk of GBV and HIV, and creating lasting social change through the mobilisation of community networks

Our Story

History of the IMAGE Programme

The IMAGE Project and its gender transformative curriculum were originally designed and developed by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the School of Public Health at the University of Witwatersrand in the early 2000s. They had the aim of evaluating the potential role of a microfinance-based poverty alleviation and empowerment strategy in the prevention of HIV and GBV.

These researchers partnered with the Small Enterprise Foundation (SEF), South Africa’s largest developmental microfinance institution, in order to utilise their platform and client base to deliver HIV and gender training alongside SEF’s microfinance programme.

They adopted a gender transformative approach to create opportunities for women to actively challenge gender norms, to promote positions of social and political influence for women in the target communities, and to begin to address power inequities between women and men that were the enabling environment in which HIV and GBV could flourish.

Thus in 2001, the IMAGE Project pilot programme was launched and carefully studied in order to assess the ongoing impact of the combined economic, health, and social empowerment intervention. They called this pilot Sisters for Life.

More information on the study can be found here: Lancet Cluster Randomised Trial: Effect of a structural intervention for the prevention of intimate-partner violence and HIV in rural South Africa


The microfinance component of the intervention is delivered in partnership with the Small Enterprise Foundation. SEF administers loans exclusively to poorest women in rural villages for the development of income-generating activities.


In addition to the microfinance component described above, the second component of the IMAGE intervention includes a participatory gender and HIV training programme called Sisters for Life, which is fully integrated into routine loan centre meetings and is delivered alongside microfinance services by a separate team of trainers. SFL comprises of two phases delivered over 13 months

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Let’s work together towards a better society for women in South Africa