Swaziland’s young, married women are a priority population to reach in order to end new HIV infections, given that the country has a generalized HIV epidemic. Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, estimated at 26% among adults 15-49 and 31% among adults 18-49. Among young women, HIV prevalence ranges from 31% (women age 20-24) to 47% (25-29). HIV incidence is highest in women age 20-24 (4.2%) and 35-39 (4.2%).
To halt new HIV infections among women age 20-24, many of whom are married, the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) is using a combination prevention approach and strengthening community capacity to address the socio-behavioral risks that influence HIV infection. Meaningful community participation is essential to ensure the sustained demand of high-quality essential FP and HIV services, as well as to foster local ownership and accountability. HC3 is collaborating with government and other stakeholders to strengthen the capacity of leaders at the Inkhundla (sub-district) level and increase community ownership in the process.
With funding from the DREAMS initiative, HC3 has been working with chiefs and their spouses as well as their inner councils to create safe spaces for young women by addressing the social and gender norms that place them at risk. This activity uses a Community Leaders Manual that culminates in action plans and a pledge of their commitment to reduce vulnerability for young women. As a result, chiefs have committed to addressing teen pregnancy and safeguarding the wellbeing of young women. One way that they are putting this into action is by ensuring that young women are not married off at very young ages. They enforce this by asking for birth certificates and fining men who marry underage girls.
At the same time, HC3 supports the economic and social empowerment of young women ages 20-24 through financial literacy self-help groups. These groups meet weekly to conduct savings and loan activities as well as gain information and skills around financial literacy to strengthen their economic assets, HIV prevention strategies, how to be assertive and communicate their needs and wants, job skills such as CV development and interview techniques, and networking with mentors using a manual HC3 developed for this purpose.