Recently, after the rape of a schoolgirl, her community approached us to ask for our help. In particular, they wanted assistance in addressing the issue of child and under age sex workers working in “bars” in our catchment area. Many of these girls are either at school or have been trafficked into the townships from rural villages. We engaged a specialist team to establish a programme to support these children in breaking away from this dangerous exploitation, and to try and prevent young schoolgirls from becoming involved in child prostitution.
When we started to pilot the programme, we discovered through research and consulation that the scope and breadth of abuse of girl children was a lot wider than we thought. Although life is tough for all young people in Malawi - for girl children, their ability to make choices is often either greatly diminished, or even non-existent. They are commonly treated as property, particularly vulnerable to abuse, and are often isolated and at great risk. Girls were routinely being subjected to domestic and sexual abuse, coerced into prostitution, being trafficked, and otherwise abused, even being used as human shields in armed robberies.
Communities in Malawi are concerned about this, and a number of approaches have been made to us to help. It is for this reason that we have taken the decision to pursue a direction which enables us to try to level that playing field, and support young girls and women who are experiencing the sharp end of power inequality in Malawi. Following a period of research and consultation with girls who are experiencing this kind of abuse, Chance For Change Developed Pioneers of Change.
Our ‘Pioneer’ programme addresses issues such as rebuilding confidence, effective decision-making, knowledge of SRH and sexual risk-management, how to recognise grooming, how and where to access support, and counselling etc.
Weekly workshops are held with girls and their families to raise awareness of the risks and how they can protect themselves and their friends. The better informed and equipped young girls are, the better chances they have of working together with their community to stop this abuse. Our facilitators are also working with the wider community, holding events and workshops, to change mindsets to create a safer and more supportive and equal environment for young girls in Lilongwe to grow up in. We also seek to raise awareness amongst boys and youths, of gender-based issues as “Bystanders”. We would also use this forum as a basis for chatrooms and radio programmes, which we have found in the past to be effective at de-personalising difficult issues and also reaching a wider audience
We also will provide access to our ‘Rites of Passage’ programme where graduates of the Pioneer programme can specialise in enterprise, advocacy, or community volunteer work.