Malawi’s First Lady Her Excellency Dr. Gertrude Mutharika has called on strengthened efforts to address the needs of adolescent girls and young women in the country.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of a three-day consultative workshop for adolescent girls organized by the Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) –a Member Association of IPPF Africa Region, Dr. Mutharika decried the myriad of challenges that many young women in Malawi continue to face today, which often times lead to their engagement in unsafe sexual practices.
“A significant number of girls and young women often find themselves in situations where they are forced into unwanted sexual practices in a bid to survive – practices which unfortunately lead to negative health consequences. Many girls end up with unwanted pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV. I urge you girls to be confident and report any person who demands sex from you in return for favours. Do not be afraid to do so,” she appealed to the young female advocates present during the opening ceremony on 11 March 2016. The FPAM-led consultative workshop aimed at empowering adolescent girls and young women on their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
Dr. Mutharika is recognized as a key champion for women’s empowerment in Malawi, and is dedicated to raising the profile of women in society. At the forum, The First Lady particularly commended FPAM’s noble work in leading efforts to train young Malawi women as advocates for their rights to quality SRHR services through the 3E project (Engagement + Empowerment = Equality).
The 3E project works with young girls and aims to reduce their HIV vulnerability by addressing the challenges they face, which largely stem from unequal power relations between men and women. According to Ms. Dudu Simelane, the IPPFAR Team Leader for East and Southern Africa and who also attended the forum, the project is designed to bring adolescent girls and young women into advocacy arena, develop their leadership skills and engage them in national, regional and global HIV policy platforms to champion their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs.
“Gender inequality, injustice and persistent structural barriers continue to shape the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV disproportionately affects adolescent girls and young women due to both biological and gendered differences. The relationship of HIV as both a cause and consequence of violence against women is well documented, whereby a woman who has experienced intimate partner violence has a 50 per cent increase in likelihood of acquiring HIV. Further, an estimated 30 per cent of adolescent girls aged between 15 – 19 years experience intimate partner violence,” she said.
The 3E project is currently being implemented in the three countries of Malawi, Kenya and Uganda through the technical assistance of IPPF Africa Region, and with financial support from UN Women. In these countries, girls and young women aged between 10 – 25 years who are particularly vulnerable to HIV, as well as those living positively with HIV are empowered to voice their needs and concerns through mentoring activities and through social media. The trained youth advocates play a key role in mobilising other girls and young women by building their advocacy skills on HIV and SRHR. This they do through community outreaches, conducting educative sessions in schools, in their neighbourhoods, as well as sending out messages on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
Started in July 2015, Ms. Nathalie Nkoume –IPPFAR’S Gender, Sexual Rights and Advocacy Advisor who is coordinating the 3E project notes the successes achieved in the three countries.
“Today, we have more than 75 young girl advocates who are more confident about their sexuality. They are able to have open conversations about their HIV status, and are not shy about sharing credible information on sexual health with their peers. More importantly, they are able to raise their voices in decision-making platforms and advocate for the prioritization of their needs at national level. The girls have formed peer support groups which serve as good mentoring platforms for them,” says Ms. Nkoume.
Ms. Nkoume adds that the successes of the 3E project have been realized as a result of the support of among others; women’s rights champions such as Dr. Mutharika, as well as government officials including those from the Ministries of Health and Education in the three countries.