It is mid-afternoon and the bellowing sound of cows is heard in a distance. The scorching sun’s heat is unbearable and makes it very difficult to walk in the sandy soil of Bubi District in Matabeleland North province of Zimbabwe. Clouds of smoke can be seen from a distance signaling the preparation of midday meals. We walk into Thompson Maseko’s homestead in Vadala village. We go to the neatly thatched kitchen and announce our arrival.
A lean, tall guy walks out followed by two little girls, the resemblance is out of this world, he certainly and without doubt, is the father. Maseko introduces himself to us and lets us know that he is the Padare Enkhundleni Men’s Forum on Gender Male Advocate in Vadala Village. We are excited because he is the one we have come to see.
Padare Enkhundlen Men’s forum on Gender is a movement of men advocating for gender justice in Zimbabwe and is one of the partners under the Zimbabwe Partnership to Accelerate AIDS Control (ZimPAAC) consortium.
The spicy aroma from the kitchen does not escape our nostrils and we hope to see his wife busy in the kitchen only to find out that he was the one doing the cooking for his young girls,
“My wife has gone to work and I am home with my daughters so I was preparing lunch for them,” he said. The look on his face does not show that he is doing something out of the ordinary, for him cooking for his daughters is as normal as any other house chore.
“As a male advocate in my community, I encourage men to challenge masculinity, there is nothing wrong with sharing house chores and helping around the house,” he sternly said.
While we are still doing the interview, Maseko excuses himself to go and serve his daughters food and we are glad to watch him do so. In 2020, He was crowned the best Male Advocate in Matabeleland North where he works with Zim-TTECH and Padare Enkundleni Men’s forum encouraging men to get circumcised and demystify myths around Patriarchy.
“I mainly do one on one interactions with men in my community and I work with my village traditional leadership to encourage men to get circumcised. So far, I have reached over 600 individuals in and around my community. In just a month I meet with around 60 men with whom I have conversations around male circumcision and HIV testing,”
“Now, I have frequent visitors who come to enquire and get insights, some of them I refer to the local clinic for further assistance. We have HIV self-test kits that we encourage people to use regularly,” highlighted Maseko.
“I have seen significant changes in my community since I started as a Male Advocate. I have seen men accompanying their wives to access health services. I have seen men help out with house chores. A lot of men in my community are now seeking health services. They no longer shun visiting health facilities and that is a good sign.” He said.
Male Advocates in Matabeleland North work with the Ministry of Health and Child Care through the Zimbabwe Partnership to Accelerate AIDS Control (ZimPAAC) consortium. Padare in Matebeleland North addresses social norms that promote patriarchal domination and all forms of abuse by men that leads to poor health-seeking behavior and gender-based violations. Male advocates work with other critical stakeholders such as National Aids Council and gender organizations to ensure a coordinated approach as well as ease of referrals. Padare engages men in the communities through safe space dialogues where men challenge harmful and toxic masculinities in an endeavour to create a gender-just society. Apart from mobilizing men for services such as Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV testing services, Padare also supports health facilities with Anti-Retroviral Therapy defaulter tracking. This includes bringing back to care males that would have defaulted or deferred on ART due to different circumstances.
Through dialogues in COP20, male advocates have reached out to 95,729 men and boys since 2020 to date. These are men and boys that participated in the dialogues that were held in communities on social norms. Male advocates reached out to and referred for HTS services 36,596 men and boys. Under Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) a total of 2,0707 have been referred for VMMC. A total of 7722 males have been referred for STI screening and a total of 2900 male defaulters have been followed by male advocates while a total of 3,946 males were challenged to accompany their intimate partners for ANC visits.
Located about 98 km north-west of Bulawayo, the second largest city of Zimbabwe, lies the Tsholotsho growthpoint The main economic activity in Tsholotsho is farming however the soils are bad for cultivation which then deprives young people in this area of economic activity in farming. Young people with no economic activity are at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS especially Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). Petra Sibanda (22), one of the Community based facilitators of ward 3, Kopane village in Tsholotsho, is one of the many AGYW that the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) project has positively impacted in Matabeleland North province of Zimbabwe.
Petra who became a mother at 16, believes if she had gotten the information she got through the DREAMS project earlier she would have made better choices. After falling pregnant with no immediate plans to be parents, Petra and the father of the child panicked which resulted in the father refusing to be a part of the baby’s life,
“When I got pregnant, I did not have sufficient information on how to protect myself, we were young. It was not an easy pregnancy and having to do it alone was even harder,” she said.
After giving birth to her baby girl, Petra heard about the Dreams project from the Head nurse at the clinic in her village, she quickly applied for the Community based Facilitator role and was successful.
“The DREAMS project changed my life, now I know that I have the right to protect myself from unwanted pregnancies and contracting HIV, AIDS and STIs. I have insight as to how PreP works and with access to such information I can simply say I am empowered and no one can violate me,” said bright-eyed Petra.
Every Adolescent girl and young woman dreams of a future in which they are empowered and are able to pursue their dreams. Petra dreams of becoming an Accountant one day and as a CBF, she encourages AGYW to protect themselves and be empowered to reduce the risk of contracting HIV through Health4life sessions where they have youth friendly reproductive health sessions on condom use, Prep uptake, stigma and discrimination.
The DREAMS project has changed Petra’s life. She now lives a life of purpose and inspires other AGYW in her community to live a healthy and dignified life.