Malawi’s Mzimba District faces many challenges. School dropout rates are high. Teenage pregnancy is on the rise. More women are experiencing gender-based violence, and there is a lack of correct knowledge about HIV transmission and prevention.
The Every Girl Empowered project, supported by PWS&D’s local partner Livingstonia Synod AIDS Programme (LISAP), was created to address these critical issues.
Recognizing that the many challenges the Mzimba District faces are due to a lack of knowledge on sexual reproductive health topics and very limited experience with preventing and responding to gender-based violence, the project aims to work together with community members to educate them on these issues.
Many parents of young girls do not see the benefit of allowing their daughters to stay in school. This attitude can be seen reflected in increased school dropout rates, especially among adolescent girls due to early marriages and unplanned pregnancies. COVID-19 has also increased the numbers of early marriages and teenage pregnancies due to the inaccessibility of sexual reproductive health services.
To challenge the practice of early marriage, unplanned pregnancies and high dropout rates, the project is training 20 community facilitators who will guide parents on parenting skills necessary for adolescents. These facilitators will also conduct sessions equipping parents on how to engage youth on sexual and reproductive health issues to decrease early marriages, pregnancies and the transmission of HIV.
Nancy, one of the facilitators, started parent education sessions in her community when she noticed many prolonged absences at the local school due to parental negligence.
Nancy joyfully reflects on how her intervention helped, “I worked with the headteacher and his staff to identify learners who dropped out. I then arranged face to face discussions with parents whose wards had dropped out of school, and I am happy to report that 16 learners, 10 boys and 6 girls, out of 39 that dropped out returned to school after counselling their parents.”
Additionally, the Every Girl Empowered project ensures that youth in Mizmba have access to STI screening and HIV testing and counselling, as well as antiretroviral therapy for those who require it. Also, the project is strengthening communities so that they can respond to gender-based violence more effectively and provide safe reporting systems for those affected.
The Every Girl Empowered project continues its work during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some activities have been paused due to COVID-19 regulations.