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Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are facing a huge burden of HIV in East and Southern Africa. This group is still disproportionally affected by HIV and in 2017, 79% of new HIV infections were among adolescent girls while an estimated 50 adolescent girls die every day from AIDS-related illnesses and 460 adolescent girls become infected with HIV within this region. While there is increased levels of understanding of the epidemic which has increased the awareness on the need to prioritise this group, there is still need to empower them to be resilient. Knowledge and agency to advocate for their needs and rights and make the decision makers accountable is key. It is important to therefore, establish leadership pathways required to build capacity of young women to support their peers to express their rights.
READY to Lead focuses on young women’s leadership in Zimbabwe and aims to assist them to hone their leadership skills through training and mentorship. They learn how to effectively consult and represent the voices of their peers through advocacy at all levels. As the project progresses, young women mentees also grow into mentors to create a sustainable model of young female leadership.
The project targets mentoring 1,000 young women in four districts namely Masvingo, Bulawayo, Gutu and Chitungwiza in Zimbabwe. A total of 100 young women leaders were trained and supported to lead community and advocacy activities and each mentors at least 10 young women. The mentors act as role models to their mentees and use their technical knowledge to act as experts and champions in their communities. The project is funded by Comic Relief and is implemented by Zimbabwe Young Positives (ZY+) with technical support from Frontline AIDS and the ATHENA Initiative. In order to have an in-depth understanding of the pathways to leadership a four case studies were documented with four selected mentors.
Leadership and sustained mentorship helps young women leaders succeed in engaging their peers, their families, the community, service providers and decision makers in advocating for their priorities. As the young women increase their self-awareness they are empowered to express their needs and rights and also support their peers to do the same. Young women as leaders are now able to formulate and articulate advocacy issues in a way that their peers can relate and act on. Therefore, demystifying the technical SRHR and leadership issues and building the capacity of young women to identify challenges they face and turn these into advocacy messages.
READY to Lead has helped young women through creating leadership pathways and sustained mentorship which has helped young women leaders to succeed in engaging their peers, their families, the community, service providers and decision makers in advocating for their priorities.
The project has been implemented in four districts in three provinces in Zimbabwe. It is critical to deepen the engagement with young women within the these provinces and in collaboration with other interventions to help more young women in their diversity to become leaders.
Leadership increases awareness of the self within the mentors, and the need for their roles in the communities. With increased self-awareness, comes increased self-agency and confidence. Additionally, mentors have learnt the value of advocating both at personal level and at household and community level for her mentees. However, leadership pathways are constantly tested as the young leaders live their lives within the same community they served. Stigma around HIV and negative social norms within the communities also interferes with the pathways of leadership.