By Tadiwa Nyatanga
We recently shared an article on the Brotha2Brotha programme, an intervention aimed at preventing the spread of HIV in young men.
For Adolescent Girls and Young Women, there is the Sista2Sista (S2S) programme whose aim is to enhance the self-efficacy of young women to access and utilise integrated HIV prevention, sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services by empowering them to make responsible reproductive health decisions.
Some of the key issues articulated in the programme are delaying sexual debut, standing up against child marriages, reduction in teen pregnancies, reporting of sexual abuses and linking those that are HIV positive to care.
The programme was established after research had shown that adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in particular experience dramatically disproportionate burden and risk factors of HIV infection.
Young women (20-24) have HIV prevalence 2,78 times greater than their male counterparts. Interventions which address the social and structural factors that fuel intergenerational, forced and or transactional sex – particularly gender inequality and sexual and gender-based violence – are critical for preventing HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
Most communities in Zimbabwe have placed the girl child at a disadvantage in aspects like education, and consequently economic as well as social standing. These disadvantages then predispose the girls and young women to GBV and HIV.
Agnes Dembedza, District Aids Coordinator for Harare’s Eastern District stated that vulnerable girls benefit from the availability of safe spaces offered in S2S clubs as they tend to open up to mentors and tell them their issues that they may not be able to tell their parents or teachers – most cases of sexual abuse have seen perpetrators being brought to book.
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“Mentors are trusted and respected people handpicked from the communities that they work in; hence it is easy for the mentees to trust them with issues that they find difficult to share with other people,” Dembedza said.
“At times the girls are more comfortable sharing with the mentors than family members because the mentor does not judge them and deals with issues without being emotional.”
Theresa Makiwa, a mentor based in Rushinga, says she gets emotional satisfaction from seeing young girls growing up to be independent women.
“We used to have a lot of early marriages in the area, but ever since the programme started, these are now very few. We teach girls to say no and mean it. We also encourage and teach them to do buying and selling and saving their funds,” Makiwa said.
If a mentee raises an issue, she is referred to a site where she can get help. Referrals made in S2S clubs have resulted in high service acquisition, as the mentors follow up on the girls to check if they eventually acquired the services and continually encourage service uptake especially HIV Testing and Counselling before starting and on exit of S2S.
The use of layered integration has seen S2S club members benefiting information, school fees payment, food assistance, internal savings and lendings, provision of sanitary pads and this has increased S2S popularity and appeal of the girls clubs among parents and the community.
One example is that of six S2S club members in Hopley who have been trained in bricklaying, carpentry, road paving and plumbing.
Some girls who have graduated from earlier groups are used as role models and resource persons to new groups.
Most communities have embraced the programme as various leaders and cadres are referring girls to the clubs.
In areas that the programme has been implemented, demand for new girls to join the clubs is always high, evidenced by mentors’ long waiting lists of vulnerable girls in communities.
Resources permitting, the programme will be spread to all districts in the country.
So far, 12 150 girls and young women have been enrolled into the S2S programme.
The model is being funded by Global Fund, UNFPA, World Vision as well as the National Aids Council and it is implemented in all the 10 provinces in Zimbabwe.
With reduced infections amongst women, there will be HIV negative babies and an HIV free generation. Ultimately, the programme will immensely contribute to ending Aids by 2030.