As a poor rural girl she grew up without the very basic health information she needed to know in order to be healthy.
But then she joined the Improved Rural Reproductive Health Project, which was designed to empower and mobilise young women as sexual and reproductive health advocates.
Established in 2011, the project was initiated by a local Aids Group – Family Aids Support Trust (FAST) – funded by USAID. To date, the trust has trained 50 young women to strengthen their leadership skills and built their confidence to speak out about the reproductive health issues that affect their daily lives.
These women will then train other young women in various groups at village level throughout the district. By giving young women the voice to tell their stories, the FAST is empowering them to improve their own lives and serve as leaders to others.
In an interview during a tour of the project in Buhera District recently, FAST programs officer Jennifer Kuture said women in Zimbabwe typically married early and began having children right away.
“Rates of maternal death in the country are high, so are HIV infections. So we are training the young women to realise that they are the ones who should guard against this,” she said.
“With little education about how HIV is transmitted or treated, many living with HIV and AIDS face stigma and discrimination. It is through these trainings that we are empowering young women with necessary reproductive health issues,” Kuture explained.
The women interviewed said the Improved Rural Reproductive Health Project by FAST had helped educate them about sexual and reproductive health and gave them greater confidence about their rights.
Nyirenda at one time thought she had little say in her future.
“Traditionally I was taught that whatever a man tells you to do, you have to do it because he is the head of the house. This include sex every day when I am not having my monthly period, having a child when a man needs to have one and doing all the domestic work and growing food crops to feed the family,” she explained.
“But this project has really changed my life. I never knew anything about sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV, but now I have learned that as a woman I have a right to say no to things I do not want to do,” said Nyirenda.
Another young woman (name withheld) said she had learned how HIV was transmitted and realized that she could be at risk.
She had been forced into marriage at an early age. Knowing that her husband had paid a dowry for her, she felt obligated to have unprotected sex without asking any questions. After the training, she got tested for HIV and found out she was positive.
Despite this new challenge, she remains hopeful about her future—and the future of others living with HIV. Angeline Pasirai, who is also HIV positive, admitted that, growing up, she and most other people in her community felt stigma against those living with HIV.
“At first I used to discriminate against people who are living with HIV by not listening to them and not caring for them or interacting with them. But, the new knowledge and my own journey living as someone with HIV has made me love and start caring for the sick,” Pasirai said.
Together, these women are breaking the silence on important issues and rallying community support to advance reproductive health for many more rural women.Post published in: Analysis