Mercy Kansale, a Camfed Teacher Mentor from Malawi, explains the need for increased awareness in her community: “Despite the prevalence of HIV and AIDS and the high rate of teenage pregnancy, these matters are not discussed in most homes. Culturally, sex is treated as a private matter, reserved for older, married people. By not talking it over with children parents feel that they are keeping an appropriate social distance. Many parents are also embarrassed or ashamed to speak about it.” This is combined with the social and geographical isolation of poor rural communities, making the girls most at risk the most hard to reach for prevention and treatment. In schools, many existing HIV/AIDS prevention strategies focus on abstinence, in direct contrast with the statistics showing the high numbers of young women who will enter into early marriage, and therefore be pressured into having unprotected sex with their husbands. In parts of rural Zambia, for example, as many as 6 in 10 girls are at risk of child marriage.
To combat this culture of silence around child brides and HIV/AIDS, Mercy is working with Camfed alumnae (CAMA) members to educate girls on their rights, their sexual and reproductive health, and how they can seek information and advice. “We discuss the importance of being assertive and resisting peer pressure and also explain to girls how their reproductive system works and give counsel on HIV and AIDS. There are also extracurricular arrangements through clubs, a number of which provide a forum for seeking, accessing and discussing information on sex.”
With so many girls unable to access health services, counselling and testing, these dedicated community members bringing this information directly to girls in their communities and classrooms are a vital resource. They are figures that girls can relate to, and trust. Not only that, but CAMA members take a holistic approach, taking their sensitisation sessions to parents, teachers, and traditional leaders, ensuring that the fight to end child marriage and HIV/AIDS is a community effort.