Saving the girls from pangs of gender-based violence

“No one in my family has ever completed secondary school level. Almost every month, I used to see or hear stories like one of my friends or someone I know of my age or younger getting pregnant and getting married. I really wanted to be different, so joining Go! Girls Club and accessing SRHR services at Malawi EMPOWER Activity outreach clinic is a golden opportunity for me,” Catherine Dickson, 16 years old says as she interacts with EMPOWER Adolescent Girls and Young Women Coordinator for Machinga District, Virginia Kayoyo.

Currently, Malawi EMPOWER Activity is working in four districts of Mangochi, Machinga, Zomba and Chikwawa. Expanding Malawi HIV and AIDs Prevention with local Organization working for an Effective Epidemic Response (EMPOWER) is a five-year USAID and PEPFAR funded project, supporting the Government of Malawi (GoM)’s commitment to epidemic control by stopping transmission and preventing new HIV infections, particularly among priority men and Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) aged in the range of 10 to 24 years old to achieve the 95:95:95 goal.

The story of Catherine falls within the category of girls that the Malawi EMPOWER Activity is working with. Through the AGYW arm the project runs outreach clinics that provide  a wide range of contraceptives to AGYW, management of STIs, GBV  and post violence clinical  and non-clinical support , HIV testing as well as  systematic referrals for services that cannot be provided  during clinical outreach.

“I am 16 years and have just written the final Primary School Leaving Certificate examinations at Nsanama Primary School. I stay with my sister at Libokosi village TA Mlomba here in Machinga district. My father died when I was 10 and my mother is too poor to take care of me. I am the last born in a family of 6 and my sister who is the fifth born in the family had to drop out of school in form 1 some 5 years ago to get married so she could be caring for herself and me, since then I do stay with her and she now has 2 children,” she shares her ordeal.

Machinga district has a population of 735, 438   which is 50% increase from the population of 2008. One in three inhabitants are the youths aged 10 – 24.  More than half of the youths in the district (117,835) are Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) that represent great potential to be productive in their respective communities. However, these AGYW are disproportionally negatively affected by HIV and AIDS, gender inequity, sociocultural norms, and harmful traditional practices.

“Today, Malawi EMPOWER Activity is working with adolescent girls and young women from the age of 10 to 24 that are at risk of facing a number of challenges that affect their health, education, safety and the general obstacles that girls face for being female,” Kayoyo says.

Through the Malawi EMPOWER Activity interventions positive strides have been made. 

“I have a boyfriend who sells rice at Nsanama Trading Centre and we have an intimate relationship. But frankly speaking I do not want to get pregnant or getting married and ending up like my sister. I am determined to reach secondary school and go to college. I inspire to be a nurse like you Virginia, and I hope I will make it,” she frowns while speaking with Virginia.

Catharine uses Sayana Press contraceptive and condoms offered at the Malawi EMPOWER outreach clinic. She says Malawi EMPOWER Activity introduced her to use hormonal contraceptives for the first time. Every time she visits the Malawi EMPOWER Activity facility; she says she usually collect condoms.

“With the long holiday after exams I know anything can happen, so I need to be very safe,” she says adding that she greatly appreciates the counselling and all the services Malawi EMPOWER Activity offers.

“There is no way I would go to the facility even for a condom because I am too shy to do so. But here the environment is more friendly, and we talk freely, none of my friends would even know I have injected myself Sayana,” Catherine says.

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