Group in Zimbabwe Works To Fight Poverty, Empower Girls To Reduce Spread of HIV, Reuters Reports
Zimbabwe-based Girl Child Network, which organizes girls' clubs in towns and villages, is focusing on combating poverty in the country to empower girls, reduce the incidence of rape and fight the spread of HIV, Reuters reports. GCN founder Betty Makoni said poverty is a main reason for the spread of HIV in Zimbabwe. "Many girls don't have anything to eat or drink," she said, adding, "Then a sugar daddy comes and says, 'If you have sex with me, I will give you money,' and they are likely to take the money" and contract HIV.
According to Reuters, less than 25% of Zimbabwean citizens have jobs, and the inflation rate is the world's highest -- hitting 7,600% in July (Gardner, Reuters, 9/11). A shortage of foreign currency has increased poverty levels and raised inflation. More than 3,000 people die of AIDS-related illnesses weekly in the country, and 70% of hospital admissions in Zimbabwe are HIV/AIDS-related (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/12).
"At the beginning, we were not trying to fight poverty," Makoni said, adding that GNC "thought there was a problem with attitudes, beliefs and practices, but poverty can worsen AIDS." According to Makoni, education can help girls defend themselves against rape, early marriages and religious sects that perform illegal virginity testing. GCN supplies girls with food, drink, school uniforms and supplies, Makoni said. The group also works to dispel the myth that the "blood of virgins mixed with herbs" can cure HIV/AIDS, according to Reuters.
GNC runs programs in the majority of Zimbabwe's rural districts with 450 clubs assisting 30,000 girls. The group has started to expand its programs to neighboring countries, according to Reuters. Makoni founded GNC in 1998 and is featured in the new book "Women Who Light the Dark" (Reuters, 9/11).