As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) remains deeply committed to advancing gender equality, including through our DREAMS Partnership, which supports young women and girls to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe.
Announced on World AIDS Day 2014, DREAMS aims to reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in 15 countries by implementing a core package of interventions, including programming to increase economic empowerment and income generation. AGYW frequently face significant barriers when seeking to earn a living, often even if they have completed secondary school. Many times the most reliable forms of income increase AGYW’s risk of HIV acquisition and unplanned pregnancies that, in turn, further limit their economic opportunities and potential.
According to Gender and Youth Employment in sub-Saharan Africa, a November 2017 World Bank report, young women face barriers to employment because of their reduced exposure to the workplace, a lack of role models, limited mobility, and gender-based discrimination. For example, a study in South Africa demonstrated that fathers are more likely to connect their sons to jobs; in Zambia 15.1 percent of employers reported a preference for hiring men for professional positions; and in Malawi men were systematically less likely to refer women for jobs.
PEPFAR seeks #BalanceForBetter – this year’s International Women’s Day global campaign theme – through delivering evidence-based interventions that help AGYW empower themselves economically. When women work, they contribute to the economic growth and productivity of their families, communities, and countries. Through DREAMS, PEPFAR is enhancing women’s economic empowerment through various approaches.
To illustrate this impact, in Zambia, sisters Abigail (19) and Hope Nsokolo (24) enrolled in DREAMS in 2016. They were assigned to a mentor and cohort of AGYW in a “Safe Space” group. During weekly group sessions they received information on topics such as self-esteem and negotiation skills, comprehensive HIV prevention, and financial literacy. The sisters excelled and were both invited to become mentors. They invested their monthly mentor stipend toward furthering their educations. In January 2017, they were awarded scholarships to study for a certification in heavy equipment repair, a pathway to employment in the mining, agriculture, or transport sectors.
In Mozambique, DREAMS Innovation Challenge grantee Ideia Lab implemented its Business in a Box (BIB) innovation. For Lucinda (22), BIB was an opportunity to support her aunt, mother, and siblings. The training taught her financial literacy and how to negotiate with suppliers, and most importantly it raised her self-esteem, giving her the knowledge and confidence to start her own business. Lucinda conducted a market research assessment and found that many children buy popcorn on their way to school. She then used her findings to start Pop!, a popcorn stand, from which Lucinda hopes to earn enough money for university tuition.
PEPFAR has invested more than $800 million in DREAMS over its first four years. In 2017, after just 13 months of full DREAMS implementation, analyses showed that new HIV diagnoses among adolescent girls and young women declined by more than 25 percent in the majority (greater than 60 percent) of DREAMS intervention regions. Further PEPFAR analysis in our Dreaming of an AIDS-Free Future report, released in advance of World AIDS Day 2018, demonstrated that, in the past year, new HIV diagnoses among adolescent girls and young women continued to decline in 85 percent of the highest HIV burdened communities/districts that are implementing DREAMS.
PEPFAR is committed to helping improve gender equity and to supporting millions of girls and young women to reach their full potential – one dream at a time.
About the Author: Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, M.D. is U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy.