Meseret Hiwott uses community-based mentoring to reduce married girls’ social isolation and build their knowledge and skills regarding HIV and reproductive health.
One-third of the girls in Ethiopia’s rural Amhara region are married by age 15. Sixty percent are married by age 18. Married girls are often socially isolated and uneducated, and lack access to health information and legal protection. Married girls are also at higher risk of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.
Meseret Hiwott supports married girls with HIV prevention and reproductive health services. Trained adult female mentors who live in rural communities go house-to-house to invite married girls and young women aged 10–24 years to participate in the program. Groups of girls gather in safe community locations over a 4-month period to learn from their mentors. The Meseret Hiwott curriculum includes:
- Assertiveness and communication skills
- Gender issues, including gender-based violence
- HIV and AIDS (including transmission and prevention, voluntary counseling and testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, anti-retroviral therapy
- Reproductive health (including family planning, maternal and child health and nutrition, sexually transmitted infections)
- Harmful traditional practices (including early marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting)
- Financial literacy
Between 2008 and 2013, more than 300 female mentors were recruited, trained, and deployed. These mentors gathered, taught, and counseled more than 230,000 married girls and young women in rural Amhara.
An evaluation showed that girls who participated in Meseret Hiwott were more likely than nonparticipants to report that their husbands helped with domestic work, that their husbands accompanied them to the clinic, that they used family planning, and that they received voluntary counseling and testing for HIV. Improvements on these measures were even more likely for the girls whose husbands had participated in the Council’s Addis Birhan program for husbands.
For example, girls who participated in Meseret Hiwott were nearly 8 times more likely than nonparticipants to receive voluntary counseling and testing for HIV. If their husbands were Addis Birhan participants, they were more than 18 times more likely to receive voluntary counseling and testing.
These results show that programs that involve both wives and husbands can result in incremental improvements to the health and wellbeing of married girls.