A Malawian Community Invests in its Young Women

Young women in Malawi face tremendous obstacles to accessing employment that is safe and provides them and their families with a decent standard of living. Difficulty earning adequate income and managing economic shocks prompts some to turn to unsafe coping strategies, such as remaining in abusive relationships for economic reasons and engaging in transactional sex, which is a leading cause of the disproportionately high HIV rate among young women.

Marriage is sometimes thought to be a protective factor in this regard, and approximately half of Malawian women are married by age 18. However, a study indicated that newly married women’s chance of contracting HIV can actually increase after marriage, and some women appear to be using divorce as a way to avoid contracting the virus. For these women, economic independence is critical to supporting their right to live safe, HIV-free lives.

Save the Children, through the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, is implementing a program that will help at-risk young women obtain decent employment by mitigating the obstacles they face at the individual, community, and market levels. In the districts of Zomba and Machinga, Save the Children is training the young women in “soft,” or life skills, as well as “hard” technical and vocational skills that are in demand locally. Save the Children is also connecting the young women to jobs.

In Tiwealele village in Zomba district, 60 young women gather for life-skills and business training at the Limisikami Community Center. They discuss business plans and record keeping while laughing and encouraging one another with shouts and clapping. Attendance is high and the mood in the room is positive and hopeful, a marked shift from the first several training sessions held months ago.

Although the community had donated a modest brick building with a metal roof for training, the area lacked a latrine, and soon after training started, absences began to increase. The young women, some traveling long distances on foot, were uncomfortable, especially when they were menstruating, because there was no access to a proper latrine.

Lloyd Kalonganda, the chairperson for the village development committee and who was instrumental in bringing the training to the village, heard their concerns. He mobilized the villagers, who together contributed 12,800 Malawian Kwacha (equivalent to approximately 17 USD) to build a latrine. Attendance immediately increased.

When asked what motivated him to help the young women in this way, Mr. Kalonganda replied that he saw Save the Children’s program not only as beneficial to the young women, but to the entire community. He said that as the young women become more self-reliant and lift themselves up with life skills and greater employment prospects, they will set an example and give back to their community.

Miriam Moussa, president of the training class at Limisikami Community Center concurred. She noted the effect that the latrine had on training attendance. More importantly, though, she said that the young women were inspired by the community’s commitment to their future and became even more motivated to continue the program.

JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., is the DREAMS Innovation Challenge Funds manager and in that role supports 46 DREAMS-IC winners selected to execute cutting-edge programs across the 10 countries. JSI provides overall program support for DREAMS–IC and technical assistance to implementing partners includes strengthening partners’ institutional capacity to manage awards in compliance with U.S. Government regulations and supporting them in reaching the DREAMS–IC goal to reduce the incidence of HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women.

To learn more about Save the Children, please visit www.savethechildren.org. To learn more about the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, please visit www.dreamspartnership.org. This publication was funded through a grant from the United States Department of State as part of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI). The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or JSI.