12/31/2014 01:25 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

University of Cape Town Leans In

By Alexandra Swanepoel

"Our Circle asks, 'what does it mean to be a woman in Africa today?' and more." -University of Cape Town Circle leader Alex Swanepoel.

I am the founder and president of Lean In at the University of Cape Town. When thinking about my Circle, I am often reminded of Nelson Mandela's favorite isiXhosa saying "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu." It means "I am because we are."

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of gender violence in the world. The issue has dominated public debates but change needs to happen -- faster. We cannot move forward as a whole if half of our society is held back every day. That's where our Circle comes in. Our groups wants to help women in Cape Town reflect on where we are... and where we need to go.

We launched a social media photo campaign on Facebook titled, "What does it mean to be a woman of Africa today?" which got a really positive response on campus. We heard answers that spanned from, "We are more than the sensual objects so often portrayed in music videos," to "As a black female African, I feel I carry a massive legacy to proudly participate in the struggle for equality and empowerment."

We've headed out to Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town's most impoverished areas and a township, to give a legal education workshop on domestic violence and how residents there can protect themselves against sexual harassment. Women there openly discussed how domestic violence affects their lives and their families. Our group handed out information pamphlets on how people can help themselves and their loved ones by filling out protection forms under the Domestic Violence Act and Protection from Harassment Act. I am a law student, so I am always hoping to find ways to help women find justice. We wanted to make sure that these women knew their rights and had all their options at their fingertips -- and understood that they weren't alone.

I am thrilled with our Circle's progress so far and inspired by the community of women at the University of Cape Town.

I am because we are.