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Village bank rescues women from sex work

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By Yamikani Yapuwa:

DOING WELL IN BUSINESS – and Shumba

Christina Yohane, 24, and Joyce Shumba, 23, both from Mulanje District, have gentle words for village savings and loans (VSL) scheme because it has changed their lives for the better over the past two years.

The two belong to Young Queens Club in Traditional Authority (T/A) Njema, an entity of young women who dropped out of school and are now running a VSL scheme to improve their lives.

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Yohane vividly recalls how life became difficult after her marriage collapsed and she began to sleep around with men to make ends meet.

“I slept around with men just to raise some money for my daily needs. Some men would sleep with me on credit. I was doing all this because I had no reliable source of income,” she says.

Luckily, in 2016, Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco), spotted Yohane and trained her together with other girls in VSL scheme through the Comprehensive Act ion for Adolescent Girls and Women (AGYW) Project.

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“After the training, I was able to save money and acquire loans which I used to start a small business,” she states.

She adds that VSL has helped many young women around Limbuli in Mulanje to be financially independent.

“Limbuli borders with Mozambique and is characterised by cross-border activities which increase under privileged girls’ vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV,” Yohane says.

She adds that young women now direct their energies to developing and uplifting themselves instead of trekking to Mozambique for commercial sex.

“Some of our colleagues are into juice making business. But, on my part, I sell tomatoes at Limbuli. From the proceeds of my business, I have managed to build a house,” she says.

Similarly, Joyce Shumba from Namaona Village, T/A Mabuka, used to engage in commercial sex activities before being inducted into a VSL scheme.

“I used to rely on men for my basic needs. I suffered a lot at the hands of men who could just sleep with me without paying anything.

Others could assault me afterwards. However, I used part of the money I received as subsistence allowance during the VSL training to start a small business and managed to join a VSL group,” Shumba says.

She is now into cross-border business. She goes to Tanzania to buy kitchen utensils such as food warmers and plates which she sells to people at Limbuli Trading Centre and surrounding areas.

“I now take care of myself and my child without any difficulties. I can no longer be enticed into commercial sex work because I am empowered. No man can sleep with me because of K500 only,” she says.

According to UNAids and the African Union’s Empower Young Women and Adolescent Girls: Fast- Tracking the End of the Aids Epidemic in Africa 2015 Report, young African women and adolescent girls are more vulnerable to HIV.

Locally, the 2015/16 Malawi Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (MPHIA) states that among young people aged between 15 and 24, HIV prevalence was twice as high among females at 3.4 percent.

Among those aged between 25 and 29, the prevalence rate was almost three times greater in females at 13.6 percent. The trend is attributed to high levels of commercial and unprotected sex, often as a result of poverty.

Coalition for Empowerment of Women and Girls (Cewag) Executive Director, Beatrice Mateyo, says the socio-economic status of young women is highly linked to their vulnerability to HIV.

“This is because the less empowered they are, the little the bargaining power they have in a relationship, especially in cases where the woman is financially supported by her partner,” Mateyo says.

She adds: “Cash-strapped girls choose to engage in sex work which also exposes them to the virus and, sometimes, clients may offer more money in exchange for unprotected sex.”

To this effect, Mateyo says young women who are economically empowered are able to demand protected sex and can afford to buy condoms in addition to seeking HIV testing services.

Yoneco Executive Director, McBain Mkandawire, feels that engaging young women in VSL schemes, popularly known as village banks, has proved to be an effective way of fighting HIV and Aids and gender-based violence (GBV).

“Young women who are not economically empowered are prone to risky behaviours which can lead them to contracting HIV as well as being susceptible to GBV,” Mkandawire says.

Thus, his organisation has been engaging out-of-school adolescent girls and young women in life skills, economic empowerment as well as how to prevent GBV since 2016.—Mana

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