Innovative approaches at grassroots level in Zambia
26 December 2007
Young people in Zambia.
Photo credits: UNAIDS/M.Aon
Slowing the high rate of new infections in young girls in Zambia is being addressed with urgency by leadership on several levels across the country.
The high rate of infections in young girls is a key element of the epidemic in Zambia. Girls are at risk for several reasons including the fact that hey are often economically dependent on men, or fear violence from them, so however well educated they are about the risks, they cannot say no to sex. In Zambia there is also pressure on women to demonstrate their fertility, so they do not use condoms and a cultural trend for inter-generational relationships also puts girls at risk: statistics show that HIV prevalence peaks in men between the ages of 29 and 34; in women it is 15 – 24.
Addressing this issue, a partnership called “Women for Change” works with traditional leaders in Zambia who are all men, conducting education around relationships in addition to mediation skills in community disputes, for example, over issues about land.
Rainbow Coalition of NGOs targeting HIV and women’s rights
Zambia has also seen the recent founding of the Rainbow Coalition. Its patron, Mrs Elizabeth Mataka is also Executive Director of ZNAN and the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa.
The Rainbow Coalition was founded with the support of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. It has brought together for the first time, diverse NGOs concerned with HIV and women’s rights issues, to bid for Global Fund grants.
Their work has helped to persuade the Global Fund to issue stringent guidelines to recipients of its grants to ensure that they take into account the needs of women and girls equally with men.
Sisonke Msimang, AIDS programme manager at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, says: “It’s absolutely great that through this exercise the Global Fund has reviewed the conditions for awarding grant money in future.
“With modifications in the rules, it should be easier for the Rainbow Coalition to target the grants available from the Global Fund. That’s what we are pushing for now.”
Coordinated partnership key
Recently arrived in Zambia, UNAIDS’ Partnerships Adviser, Maha Aon, says one of her greatest challenges is to learn more about how to make prevention work for girls in a context like Zambia, and to ensure partners are working together for the best results.
The issue of women and girls was a central consideration at a national AIDS conference on the role of civil society in the quest for universal access held in Zambia earlier this year.
About 300 representatives of community-based organizations, mostly from district-level, were invited to the conference organized by the Zambia National AIDS Network (ZNAN).
“At the three-day ZNAN conference, there were many discussions on how to ensure different civil society constituencies working in the field organized and nominated representatives to participate at a national level and feed back to their constituencies,” she said.
Through workshops and seminars, they examined the work at grassroots level in prevention, treatment, care and support. They shared their successes and challenges, and debated civil society’s advocacy agenda around human rights issues ranging from gender to working with most-at-risk populations.
“There are many partners working on HIV in Zambia, but the main challenge is to get the programmes and money down to the districts and in a country as vast as Zambia with the poor quality of roads, this is not an easy feat.”
“At UNAIDS we find ourselves advocating for improved road systems, for income generation activities, for a strengthened civil society movement…issues that are key to development in general and not just to the micro-level issue of virus transmission.
“The Zambian government and people’s openness, frankness and sincerity in dealing with development in general, and HIV in particular is absolutely humbling, and the mere presence of this myriad of international partners and development aid make it obligatory for us to work on delivering.”