Women face many barriers to access, contribute, and participate in society equally, preventing them from developing to their full potential and impeding social and inclusive sustainable development. In Malawi, many believe that the role of Western organisations is to educate or “disseminate messages” about gender equality topics to Malawian women. Nevertheless, women in developed countries, such as the United States, also struggle with gender inequality.
One of the most exciting things that has ever happened in my professional career was when I heard that Make Art Stop AIDS (MASA): Youth was a finalist for the UN SDG Action awards. And it only got more exciting from there. Read all about my experience at the Global Festival of Action in Bonn, Germany.
The MASA Squads made the journey up to Lilongwe at the end of March to share some of the things they have been collaborating on with our friends at UCLA over the last few months. We were very excited to share it with the public and to open up the conversation about women’s rights to a broader audience.
We have been training squad members from Chancellor College and Domasi College in collaboration with our sister organisation, Art & Global Health Center UCLA, on different women’s and gender issues, such as gender discrimination, sexual violence and harassment, reproductive justice, and exploring privileges of being a man/woman.
MASA: Youth focused on college and secondary school students, including any youth living with HIV. We also focused on reaching other adolescents and youth, as they are particularly vulnerable and in need of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education, HIV prevention programmes, and HIV testing, treatment, and care services.
With 50% of new HIV infections affecting those aged 15 to 17 in Malawi, young people are particularly at risk, due to early sexual activity and marriage. Knowing about the successful efforts of the Make Art / Stop AIDS (MASA) programme in bringing HIV education to hard-to-reach populations, we set out to reach secondary school students through the MASA: Youth project in collaboration with Dignitas International.
Geoffrey Kamwendo, a 20-year-old Chancellor College student, may be pursuing his degree in Computer Sciences, but his personal passions lie in the arts. He sings; he acts; he performs poetry. That's part of why he joined the Make Art / Stop AIDS (MASA) Squad: to achieve social change using his artistic skills.
Gender based Violence (GBV) is one driving force of HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide. In Malawi GBV cases, especially against women, dominate the headlines. This is due to ignorance on human rights and gender equality. It is evenly noted that lack of comprehensive knowledge on human rights makes many victims of GBV and sexual harassment unaware of any violation. In the same vein, the victims are not even aware of where to seek assistance from. Nonetheless, the fight against HIV and AIDS is contingent on understanding how gender and GBV increase the HIV risk of women, men and children
Knowledge of Sexual and reproductive health (SRH), including HIV/AIDS, is fundamentally important to a healthy life, especially among the youth. Consequently, the modern world expects teachers to shed more light on SRH and HIV/AIDS, and other relevant topics in their classrooms. Due to cultural sensitivities, teachers are not freed up to tackle such topics openly and decisively. Worse still, even the general teaching approach spelt in the secondary school curriculum, in this case, leaves a lot to be desired. This all works to the disadvantage of the youth who receive little accurate information about sexuality. This can leave them susceptible to coercion, abuse, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.