Strength Born Out of Interdependence

“Being able to support myself without having to rely on sex work has assured me of the freedom and security I had craved for so long.”

Robin Wyatt for EGPAF, 2014

February 20 was the United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice.

Gender inequality, and discrimination against people living with HIV, continues to block access to opportunity for millions of women around the world. In response, community-based organizations in Malawi, supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), are empowering such women with psychosocial support and microfinancing.

One beneficiary is Loveness Zangaphe, a 26-year-old mother, who was assisted by the Badilika Foundation.

The Badilika Foundation was started in 2006 with the goal to improve quality of life and uphold dignity of female sex workers through socioeconomic empowerment, literacy training, and education.

Forced into Sex Work

“I grew up with a father who beat my mother. It was my need to get away from this as soon as possible -- that pushed me into sex work.

“I knew vaguely about the risks of HIV/AIDS when I first got into sex work, but it was my cousin’s death from AIDS that really started me worrying about this. I was terrified of what might happen to my son if anything were to happen to his only parent.

“When a member of the Badilika Foundation first approached me in a night club, my initial reaction was annoyance that he was getting in the way of my business. However, his friendly approach soon swayed me. I was tired of doing sex work and was deeply fearful for the future; I wanted a new life. So I followed up, and don’t regret it."

The Badilika Foundation worked with Loveness to get medical care and services, such as testing for HIV and STIs.

“Since testing positive for HIV, the Badilika Foundation has been very supportive whenever I’ve had a problem. They have made me believe in the power of living life to the fullest, in a way that is healthy."

Trained as a Welder

“The Badilika Foundation also supported me by arranging for me to have vocational training. After leaving school, I had tried to get some work at a welding shop, but I was paid a pittance and wasn’t treated well. The foundation recognized that I had some welding skills, and suggested that I could improve my lot in such jobs if I could deepen these and thereby demonstrate my worth. Part of the package that the school promised included basic equipment and start-up capital for all the participants. This will be the next step, I hope, and I’m looking forward to becoming a skilled worker and using my hands productively.

"After working with Badilika for a while, I started to realize that I had to take the initiative if I wanted to make improvements in my life. So when I was told that it will take some time before I receive the equipment and start-up capital I need to start my welding business, I borrowed some money from a local organization and started a small shop selling cosmetics, stationery and snacks that I make at home."

Empowered as a Peer Educator

“The Badilika Foundation also trained me as a peer educator. In this role, I’m able to give advice to fellow young women. I teach them the value of HIV testing and counseling. A key part of my role requires me to encourage participation among these women: to teach them about how strength is born out of interdependence, and how much the community can gain when they give back in this way. I like being a peer educator because it gives me a sense of pride when I see the tangible difference I can make in people’s lives."

Hopeful as a Mother

"I have one son. He is eight years old and enjoys school. He is very good at Math and English, and I hope that he will have the sorts of opportunities that I missed out on."

With funding from ViiV Healthcare, EGPAF has provided technical assistance to organizations such as Badilika. The community-based organization has worked to implement projects aiming to prevent HIV infection among sex workers and their clients by focusing on community interventions that decrease risky behavior, promote use of condoms, improve access to testing and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,  promote policy changes, and empower women in their communities.