Young women in Zimbabwe get READY to Lead

By Jacqui Stevenson

To celebrate International Youth Day, Jacqui Stevenson, project officer for READY to Lead, shares a message of determination as young women living with HIV in Zimbabwe complete the first part of their journey into leading and influencing the decisions that affect their sexual health and rights.

<p>A group of young women participating in READY to Lead training</p>The new cadre of young women living with HIV who are determined to lead on sexual health and rights © International HIV/AIDS Alliance

When young women lead, change happens. That principle is the foundation of the READY to Lead programme, which held its first workshop in Harare recently for 27 young women recruited to be mentors and leaders in their communities.

Each recruit is living with HIV and is committed to stepping up, speaking out and making change happen for other young women. The workshop, led by the ATHENA Initiative with Zimbabwe Young Positives (ZY+) and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, covered leadership, advocacy skills and mentoring. Young women leaders, 100 in total, will each recruit and mentor ten adolescent girls and young women, supporting them to grow in confidence and build skills and knowledge to be the new generation of female leaders.

The young women leaders reflected on why it matters: to have a strong voice for young women living with HIV; to raise self-esteem to feel stronger; to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services without being judged; and to be heard in decision-making spaces.

Preparing to lead to improve access to services

The mentors took this opportunity to share their views on the barriers faced by adolescent girls and young women in realising their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Barriers included:

  • lack of resources
  • judgmental attitudes
  • fear and feeling isolated
  • stigma and discrimination
  • lack of friendly health care services and providers
  • not knowing their rights and insufficient or inaccurate information.

Understanding the range and scale of the challenges will inspire their advocacy, and will fuel their efforts to achieve change.

This cadre of emerging and inspirational leaders will receive guidance, support and training from mentors who are the “strong leaders of tomorrow,” said one young woman.

Through mentoring, the young women leaders commit to personal development growth such as increasing their confidence and decision making abilities around their sexual health and rights. This goes alongside practical training to increase their knowledge of HIV prevention and treatment, and skills to support people who have experienced gender-based violence to report incidences.

Supporting, informing and empowering other young women helps create more advocates and leaders, who can overcome these barriers together.

Influencing decision-makers to reach global targets

So what’s next for Zimbabwe’s fresh voices? One mentor shared that she wants to “achieve the 90-90-90 goals”, the ambitious targets set by UNAIDS to help end the AIDS epidemic.

The first step for the mentors to influence Zimbabwe’s efforts to realise that milestone will be the women’s advocacy activities including National AIDS strategic planning and participating in local, national, regional and global activities and campaigns.

These 100 young women leaders and their 1,000 mentees will have a huge impact for adolescent girls and young women in Zimbabwe, and beyond.